The acid test of the New Zealand Breakers ANBL championship ambitions comes on Friday night against it appears their only serious challenger for a title three-peat, the Perth Wildcats.
The Wildcats (13-4) have already won two of their four meetings this season - the first a season-opening game dismissal of the Breakers 92-73 in their home gym at North Shore, spiking the home team's championship-banner hanging celebrations. The second was a similarly impressive 89-64 victory in Perth.
The Breakers (17-3) have since defied the stereotype of Kiwi teams in Australian-based championships, trekking across the Tasman and giving the home teams a hammering.
It is not just the winning that delights, it is the quality of team-orientated play the side produces week in and out. A club record nine successive wins, six on the road, is testimony to that.
Too many teams have the one-pass, one-shot offence as players engage in a one-on-one macho battle to bolster their statistics.
The Breakers do not ignore the physical stuff but the beauty of their offensive game is that they have individuals who usually seek out better-positioned team-mates.
The speed of the ball will always beat the man and the assists the confident Breaker boys make invariably lead to another high-percentage basket.
Their offensive game is well complemented by their suffocating pressure defence. Again they swarm as a unit placing pressure on opposition lineups which invariably oblige, coughing up turnovers when they get isolated.
The Breakers are blessed with depth which enables them to play an up-tempo, transition game without draining their reserves.
The catalyst to it all is American point guard Cedric Jackson whose wondrous skills have the commentators raving and defenders grasping at thin air.
His ball skills reprise the days of Clyde "the Glide" Huntley when he led the Canterbury Rams guardline in their 1980s heyday.
But such winning teams are never about one-man bands and Jackson had several able lieutenants plus the wisdom of multiple-championship winner CJ Bruton to call on.
Another thing to like about the Breakers is that so many Kiwi players - such as Thomas Abercrombie, Mika Vukona, Dillon Boucher, Alex Pledger and latterly Leon Henry - can shine.
Seven-footer Pledger apart, they are all on the small side in their positions but they usually dominate their markers with their hustle-and-bustle style.
Pledger is a powerhouse in the post and soaks up the ball around the boards with his long arms for plenty of ready put-backs.
People were worried when United States forward Gary Wilkinson exited off-season whether the Breakers might be exposed there but Pledger and US understudy Will Hudson have filled the breach admirably.
It was like the season before when New Zealand's premier player Kirk Penney went overseas and everyone wondered how the Breakers could cope.
A stable coaching staff led by Andrej Lemanis and Dean Vickerman deserve similar kudos for their game strategies and building such a tight, selfless unit. Supermarket owner Paul Blackwell has provided a family-orientated environment which has enabled 36-year-olds such as Bruton and Boucher to still be kicking around, playing key roles.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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