NZ Breakers need lift from Tom Abercrombie
Gary Wilkinson may be carrying the scoring load, but spring-heeled Breakers small forward Tom Abercrombie holds the key as the Breakers head for their defining road double this weekend.
With seven games left, and the 9-12 Breakers still on the outside looking in when it comes to the all-important top four, tonight's game in Wollongong and Sunday's in Adelaide have that make or break feel about them.
Two wins would be ideal; none is unthinkable.
Wilkinson has been on a scoring tear of late (21ppg since Christmas; 22.6 over the last five) as the Breakers have won five of eight, including three of their ntsG last ntepast four.
When he's open it's got a pretty decent chance of going down.
But a closer look at the numbers underlines Abercrombie's value. When he has scored 18 or more points the Breakers are 7-2; when he goes for 15 or fewer they are 3-9.
In other words, as Abercrombie goes so do the Breakers. When's he's playing with aggression and confidence, and using his length and athleticism, the champs prosper. But when he goes into his shell, they struggle.
Need more evidence? He leads the NBL in three-point per centage (.500) but in wins he shoots the long ball at 65.5 per cent, and in losses just 38.6. He also has the second highest offensive ranking (points per 100 possessions), behind only Perth's Jesse Wagstaff.
Signs are encouraging that he is ready to be the good Abercrombie this weekend. He has scored 20 or more points in three of the ntsG last ntepast four games - all victories, of course - and headed to Wollongong with his mind very much on the job.
"I was happy with the way I established a good mindset from the beginning and got some good things going to the rim," he said of his 21-point haul against Cairns last Friday. "It's about keeping that mindset throughout the game, and when the ball's not coming to me, try and find it and be aggressive that way.
"My team-mates rely on me to go out there with that kind of mindset, especially on the road, and that's what I'm going to do." Abercrombie said the Breakers' focus was entirely on Wollongong tonight, never mind that massive Adelaide lineup looming on Sunday.
"They've got the same amount of wins as us, so not much more needs to be said. They're right there fighting for that last spot; they want it, we want it, and it comes down to who wants it more."
The Hawks are on fire, having won their last three by an average 18 points, but have been thrown into a spin by the loss of in-form import Kevin Tiggs to a knee injury. Classy point guard Rotnei Clarke is coming off a 39-point outburst in a big-time win in Sydney, but the little American may have to produce something similar tonight if his team is to have any chance.
The key for the Breakers is transferring the confidence and cohesion they're now showing at home on to the road where they're 3-8 for the season. A lot of that's on Abercrombie, but he also needs Kerron Johnson, Mika Vukona, Corey Webster, Daryl Corletto and Casey Frank to play their parts.
"We certainly play with a lot of confidence at home, and perhaps on the road we haven't quite come out with the same energy, and have dug ourselves some little holes," Abercrombie said.
"We can't rely on our offence getting us over the line. We have to step the defence to another level and let that be our benchmark." As for Adelaide on Sunday, let's just say the Breakers will be highly motivated after being embarrassed 99-73 there in January when the 36ers pounded on them in low. "That was by far our worst defensive performance of the year. We gave them whatever they wanted, but we've got a lot better since then."
It's time for Abercrombie and his men to show it.