Breakers ready to tackle Adelaide
ANBL champions cross the ditch for a four-match stint in search of their third title, writes Ian Anderson.
The New Zealand Breakers will start a four-game away stint buoyed by past success and the red-hot form of guard Cedric Jackson.
The two-times defending Australian National Basketball League champions meet the Adelaide 36ers in Adelaide tonight before heading north to face the Cairns Taipans on New Year's Eve.
Further matches across the Tasman against Wollongong and Townsville on January 5 and 11 respectively will push the Breakers deeper into their quest for a third consecutive title before their next home encounter against Wollongong at the North Shore Events Centre on January 17.
Assistant coach Dean Vickerman said the side headed across the Tasman yesterday boosted by their dual away successes over Townsville and Cairns in November.
"We want to revert to the positive experiences we had travelling up north on the Sunshine Swing earlier this season," Vickerman said.
"We came out in both those games and played with outstanding energy on the defensive end. That gave us the opportunity to run offensively and that's when we're playing our best basketball.
"It all starts with ball pressure and being as disruptive as we can in the back court."
The Breakers have greatly improved their away performances in recent seasons, leading them to back-to-back titles.
"Us and Perth have had the best road results over the last three years, despite having the furthest to travel - and that's been reflected in the standings at the end of each season.
"It comes down to the detail we put into every minute of every trip - the physio and the team manager have been outstanding.
"It has taken us time to develop and the players have had to develop the attitude that we have to travel and we have to learn how to best deal with it."
The Breakers head the ANBL table with nine wins from 12 matches, just ahead of the Perth Wildcats and the Wollongong Hawks, while tonight's opponents are fifth on the eight-team ladder with five victories and seven losses.
Vickerman said a longer off-season with less international commitments, after the Tall Blacks failed to qualify for the London Olympics, had been beneficial in terms of reduced injuries. He also expected key swingman Thomas Abercrombie to continue his improvement in the second half of the season after a slow recovery from the ankle he injured during last year's final series.
Adelaide have slumped of late with a four-game losing streak and will give a debut to new imported shooting guard Scott Christopherson, who replaces dumped import CJ Massingale. Three-point shooting specialist Christopherson played US college basketball at Iowa State and recently played in the Belarus League for Tsmoki-Minsk.
The 36ers will be without swingman Mitch Creek, who ruptured his Achilles tendon during a loss to the Townsville Crocs earlier this month.
The visitors however will be at full strength, spearheaded by the mercurial Jackson, who has undeniably assumed the mantle of the league's best player while averaging 17.5 points, 7.7 assists and 2.5 steals.
Jackson has made no bones about his desire to use his second season with the Breakers as a stepping stone to grabbing a spot on the roster of an NBA franchise in the US, and Vickerman said that aim sat comfortably with the Breakers.
"He has goals about where he wants to get and he's doing everything in his favour to attract interest - and in doing so he's getting us wins too," Vickerman said.
"He's shooting threes better and he says he feels like he owns the league at the moment."
Vickerman expects the 36ers to key in on stopping Jackson driving to the basket and either scoring or dishing off to an array of shooters as the crucial element to halting the Breakers' offence.
"Everyone thinks that they can - some have had greater success than others.
"He's good enough to make those decisions and does so better than anyone in the league."
Vickerman said the defending champs were relishing what lies ahead and felt the club was poised for further success without wanting to look too far ahead.
"We have people who have proven they can step up at that time of the season.
"Right now we've just got to get there and try and get what home court advantage we can. That starts in Adelaide."