Beaten Breakers must win or playoff hopes die
The Breakers are dining at the Last Chance Saloon after one of their worst performances of the season left them facing virtual playoff elimination in Adelaide today.
All things being equal, the Breakers should have strengthened their position in Wollongong on Friday night against a Hawks side denied their standout import Kevin Tiggs through a knee injury.
Instead the brittle Auckland-based side produced another of those flat performances that have characterised their road form in this dreadfully inconsistent season and were thumped 88-68 by a Hawks outfit they'd already beaten three times.
The champions of the past three years are now 9-13 for the season and probably need to win all six of their remaining games, including today's in Adelaide against the second-placed 36ers. With their road record now a woeful 3-9, you wouldn't put your mortgage on it.
The Breakers shot poorly (39 per cent from the floor, 27 from deep), rebounded softly (thumped 41-31, giving up 15 O-boards) and defended with dreadful naivety. Hawks star Rotnei Clarke slipped free with ridiculous ease to lead his team with 28 points on a handy 10-of-20 shooting night.
"We're pretty gutted really," assistant coach Paul Henare said. "Wollongong always get you out of your flow offensively and junk up their defences, but we've dealt with that pretty well so far this year. For whatever reason, we were real tentative and couldn't get any flow."
It didn't help that three of the Breakers' go-to guys were virtual no-shows. Tom Abercrombie (8 points, no rebounds, no assists) and Gary Wilkinson (7 points, 10 boards) were non-factors, while point guard Kerron Johnson lasted 10 minutes before fouling out with 3 points, no rebounds and one assist.
Mika Vukona battled manfully, as he does, with a team-high 13 points (4/6 FG) and 11 rebounds, but Corey Webster (11 points) was the only other Breaker to break double-figures.
"At 3-0 in the series with or without Tiggs we came into this game expecting to win," Henare said. "It didn't happen, so what we do know is we play Adelaide, who are another tough team, on Sunday and we've got to throw everything at it. We've got to treat every one like a must-win and that starts on Sunday. We're going to keep fighting, and keep scrapping. You look at 14-14 and that gives you a shot, and right now we're still capable of getting that."
They're brave words, but really the Breakers have left themselves with too much to do over the run home to catch either the 11-10 Sydney Kings, who won in Cairns on Friday night, or the 12-11 Melbourne Tigers, who lost in Perth. They've missed Alex Pledger's interior presence since Christmas, and have been too inconsistent to mount any sort of a sustained challenge. Only the potential return of Kirk Penney offers hope.
Today they've got to deal with a monster 36ers side that exposed them badly last time they met, running a near layup line as they pounded the ball inside at will.
"The guys will be feeling it, and I remember as a player when you take a loss like that you just can't wait to bounce back and play again. For the guys it's less than 48 hours away and hopefully they'll be raring to go."
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