Off the long run: Breakers setting the standard
Off the long run
Being the sole New Zealand-based entrant in an Australian sporting competition has its challenges for players, coaches and management alike. Just refer to the turmoil the Warriors went through last year and the current struggles of the faltering Phoenix. But of the teams from New Zealand that are currently in business for this pursuit, it is the Breakers basketball team that is covering themselves in the most glory.
The team has won consecutive championships in the past two seasons and has an enviable 15-3 record well in to the current season. But it has not always been that way.
Over the weekend the Australian NBL had a Heritage Round and to commemorate this week each team wore uniforms to reflect their history. The Breakers wore the strip from their initial three seasons - games that played out with sluggish first half at home against an undermanned opponent and a tight but winnable road game that is broken open in the third quarter.
What came of these was a tight 72-71 win over the Wollongong Hawks and an 84-66 success in Adelaide against the hometown 36ers. In years gone by the Breakers found themselves on the wrong end of these results in these sorts of situations. It would be them being blown out in the third quarter as they racked up countless road defeats or watch their fanbase dwindle as they faltered at home. Not now however.
So what is making this team - and the two previous championship-winning units - such a consistent winner?
In terms of player personnel, standout American point guard Cedric Jackson is making a very compelling case for league MVP honours. Jackson's ultimate goal is to stick in the NBA and whilst you can see the flaws he has in his game that are perhaps holding those ambitions back, he has been playing at a very high-level this season. In a league where point guard is the deepest position the Breakers are in good hands.
You can also point to many other factors for the Breakers' success: the family culture evident at the club; role players that fit in to the 'no dickheads policy' of owners Paul and Liz Blackwell; the evolution of Tom Abercrombie; winners in CJ Bruton and Dillon Boucher who bring forth all their championship-winning experience and hard edge; a coach in Andrej Lemanis who has risen from enduring an eleven-game losing streak in his debut season and several underwhelming years to build a champion over his tenure.
Combine all that and you get a group that in important junctures in the fourth quarters of games are able to come together to win games with good regularity. Their record is unerringly good in close games and that is the hallmark of a top team. Over the holiday period, the Breakers ran down big halftime deficits in Adelaide (21) and Townsville (15) by knuckling down, executing their offence better and turning up the defensive intensity as their opponents struggled to execute in the half-court settings. There have not been complete performances by any means but they are finding ways to win. The latest win over Adelaide on Sunday was one of the rare wins where they won with more style.
For all that, winning a championship in an Australian national league is not going to be a cakewalk, let alone winning it three times in a row. On their way to the title in the past two seasons, the Breakers have had to negotiate the hurdle of the Perth Wildcats en-route to winning it all. Both series were won 2-1 by the Breakers but not after an epic battle both times.
Watching the NBL this season it is clear that these two teams are well out ahead of the field.
To me the Breakers are still very much unproven against the Wildcats this season. Two big defeats account for two-thirds of their losses on the season. Not great results against your biggest rival where these results could ultimately decide home court advantage for a playoff rematch that would seem to loom large especially given the geographic disparity between them. Of the remaining ten games in the regular season, the two fierce rivals play twice more.
Anything is possible and in truth this has actually been far from a perfect season to date for the Breakers but you would definitely have faith that they can reach the Promised Land once again.
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