NZ Breakers still believe they can reach playoffs
The more they lose, the more these New Zealand Breakers seem to believe they can still find a way to make the Australian NBL playoffs.
It sounds absurd, but the Breakers remain convinced they can find a positive resolution to this frustrating season that's been punctuated by heartbreaking defeats on the road.
Saturday night in Cairns was no different. The Breakers had a real chance to set themselves up for a run at the .500 mark for the season, but couldn't make the stops, or the shots, down the stretch as they were pipped 92-87 by the Taipans. It was their 11th defeat in 14 road game this season - six of those by five points or fewer.
That dropped the Breakers to 10-15, and with three home games remaining (against Melbourne, Sydney and Cairns) the best they can hope for is a 13-15 final mark.
But results elsewhere are somehow falling the Breakers' way. Sydney and Melbourne both lost at the weekend, and are looking increasingly fallible in spots three and four on the table.
Melbourne are 12-12 and Sydney 11-12, and with the Breakers playing both at home over the next fortnight, they feel they still have a shot at a top-four finish if they can finish with a flourish.
Breakers assistant coach Paul Henare said the mood had been pretty sombre in the changing room in Cairns after the team failed to honour Mika Vukona's 300th NBL game with a much-needed win.
"It was very quiet, very deflated. It was a battle, and we were in the game for all of it really, and had our chances to win once again," Henare said. "It sounds like a broken record with some of our losses, especially on the road, but unfortunately a couple of shots at the end just didn't drop.
"But whether it's reality or not, we believe, or we're under the assumption, that three wins can still get us in. That's got to be our goal right now."
Heanre admitted a 3-11 road record for the year "just isn't going to cut it", but a glance at the table confirmed that somehow, some way, they still had something to play for over their last three games.
As uncertain as the Breakers have been of late, the Tigers and Kings have been even worse, with neither seemingly able to gather the wins that would shore up their top-four spots. The Tigers were pipped at home in overtime by the Crocs, while the Kings were dumped by Perth in Sydney.
"The good thing is we play those two teams, in what are effectively double-banger games. They would also mean getting splits on those teams, so we're still in with a chance."
The Breakers have to find a way to play better defence over the run home. On Saturday night they allowed Taipans import Jamar Wilson to explode for 33 points, too many of them coming against the limited defence of the 38-year-old CJ Bruton.
Bruton was one of five players to notch double figures in a well spread scoring effort. But if the Breakers are to get the three wins they need, stops are going to be as important as shots.