Cedric Jackson hits sweet spot for NZ Breakers
Two games, two cities, two days, two wins.
Life's pretty sweet for the Australian NBL's new competition leaders from New Zealand.
The Breakers - behind the MVP-level masterclass from Cedric "Action" Jackson - made it two-from-two on the "Sunshine Swing" through North Queensland as they backed up Friday night's 81-72 victory over the Townsville Crocodiles with a more impressive 73-54 win at the Cairns Taipans on Saturday.
The victories extended the 6-1 Breakers' winning streak for the season, their road record to an imposing 3-0 and returned the back-to-back champions to a familiar position at the top of the standings.
What's more, their offensive numbers are on the rise - they averaged a respectable 46 per cent from the field over the two wins, and even broke 80 for the first time this season - and their defence remains top-class. The Breakers restricted the Crocs to just 39 per cent shooting overall and the Taipans to a miserable 27 as they squeezed the life out of their reptilian opponents.
No-one was more impressive than Jackson, the New Mexico product by way of Cleveland State and all-too-brief NBA stopovers at Cleveland, San Antonio and Washington. The mercurial point guard averaged 17 points, 12 assists, four rebounds and two steals over the two games, and his ability to penetrate the lane and find his open team-mates ensured the Breakers kept their score ticking over.
"When he puts his head down and gets in the lane, he creates for himself and creates for others," assistant coach Dean Vickerman said. "He keeps seeing all kinds of different coverages but he handled them all outstandingly. He's certainly an MVP candidate the way he's playing.
"His defensive play was outstanding as well. Every time it seems like we need a stop, he came up with a deflection or steal. He's doing it at both ends. Twelve assists is why we recruited him. He makes everyone else better."
The Breakers' effort on Saturday night in Cairns was especially impressive in their second game in as many days. They harried the Taipans into 18-of-67 shooting and made an emphatic statement early as they raced out to a 26-14 first-quarter lead.
"The boys just came out really focused," added Vickerman. "You could see it the way they started the game. That's extremely pleasing when you can back up on the second game with travel, and obviously the depth of your team is really tested."
The weekend also saw new import Will Hudson come into his own. He'd played solidly enough against Townsville - eight points and four boards - but was thrust into the limelight against the Snakes when starting centre Alex Pledger hit early foul trouble.
Hudson responded with his best outing in the Breaker singlet, going five-of-eight for 14 points and nine rebounds in a little over 21 minutes.
"He's accepted his role, and that's exactly why we recruited him -- to back up Pledger," said Vickerman. "He got the opportunity and took it, rolled hard on the rim, made his free-throws and crashed the offensive boards. That's what we want from him."
Hudson said it was his job to stay ready and come in with energy when his number was called. He certainly did that as Pledger battled inconsistency over a weekend that saw him muster more turnovers (nine) than field goals (six).
Hudson felt the twin road wins showed the "maturity" of a group he was slowly but surely finding his feet in.
"It's difficult coming into a team that's been together for so long," he said. "I'm still learning every day about how I can improve and help this team out. We're still not where we want to be yet, and we've still got a lot to work on."
Having Jackson, a lock for Player of the Week, in such devastating form helped, Hudson conceded.
"He's someone you want to be on the same team with, and he's doing everything from scoring to assists to steals. He's one of those point guards who fills all the categories."
The Breakers host the winless Crocs next, at Vector Arena on Friday night.