Breakers shoot down their free-throw follies
It was a bit like an episode of Fawlty Towers out at Breakers' headquarters yesterday, but instead of the war it was free throws that weren't to be mentioned.
The 3-1 Breakers are rolling along nicely on a three-game winning streak heading into tonight's clash against the resurgent 3-2 Sydney Kings at the North Shore Events Centre, and are starting to put together the all-round game we've come to expect from the back-to-back Australian NBL champions.
Defensively they've been fantastic over the last three weeks, putting the squeeze on opponents whom they've kept to an average of just 64 points. And offensively things look to be coming around, slowly but surely.
They're still not rolling, and there are still too many breakdowns in sets and in transition, but the sight of Tom Abercrombie starting to get his stroke going in Melbourne last Friday suggested the corner may soon to be turned.
Then there are the free throws.
Did somebody say free throws?
Despite the fact that it's been a glaring deficiency in the Breakers' game, coach Andrej Lemanis wants us to ignore it. He's only half-joking, but it's a part of the game that he reckons the more you talk about it, the worse it gets.
But it's hard to ignore the fact that the Breakers are currently shooting free throws at a 56.5 per cent clip. These are like one-metre golf putts. You miss the odd one, but should drill seven or eight out of 10.
Not only is the Breakers' mark the league-worst, but if they were to continue at their current rate, they would eclipse the competition's record for futility - the 58.9 per cent shot by the Canberra Cannons in 2001.
Free throws - unguarded shots from a mere 4.6m away - are an unglamorous but essential part of the game. Last week the Breakers missed 15 against the Tigers. Imagine if they'd lost by two or three? Eventually the bricks will fall down around them.
"It's a confidence thing," says Lemanis. "You've just got to relax and shoot it. As long as you guys [the media] stop bringing it up, it will help us get more confident.
"We'll find out whether it comes back to bite us on the bum, but we do put in the time. C
Thinking, or hearing, about it too much becomes, says Lemanis, "a self-generating spiral".
The Breakers' worst perpetrator at the line is their best player, MVP candidate Cedric Jackson.
He does everything pretty damn well, averaging 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.8 steals, and shooting at a respectable 46.7 per cent from the floor and 47.1 per cent from deep.
But give him a free throw and he's like Stevie Wonder. So far he's made 10 of 26 for the season, at a nightmarish 38.5 per cent.
"I've been talking to Drej [Lemanis] and C J [Bruton] and they're just telling me not to think about it. I'm not too worried - I've been working on it and I'm sure it will get better."
More important, says Jackson, is the sense or urgency the team has on defence and the improvements they're making on offence. This should have the Breakers ready to match a Sydney outfit buoyed by a sweep of Cairns and Townsville last weekend.
"They have a lot of weapons offensively, and we definitely have to pay attention to what they do well limit their opportunities."
And Jackson expects his matchup against Kings import guard Corin Henry (14.6ppg, 3.8rpg, 3.4apg) to be an engaging one. "It's going to be a challenge."