Breakers ready to turn it on in Aussie
Friday night’s rousing 88-80 win over Perth lifted the Kiwi club to outright third and clear of a mid-table logjam, with the following week providing a chance to make up ground on runaway leaders Melbourne.
But, to do that, the Breakers must accomplish a feat they have yet to manage this season – win on the road.
Dean Vickerman’s side have fought their way to a 5-4 record in the new campaign and the home-away split reads exactly the same, with each of the Breakers’ victories arriving at the friendly confines of Vector Arena and the NSEC.
But the extent of the Breakers’ road woes is slightly deceiving, being dealt three of their four defeats before Corey Webster returned to their ranks and handed the final loss in contentious circumstances last weekend in Melbourne.
The four-time champions’ dynasty has been built on an unmatched ability to triumph in enemy territory and, once they have a full roster fit and firing, there is no evidence to suggest that will change.
While the Australian NBL is undoubtedly at its most competitive since the Breakers began their title streak, Vickerman can call on one of the most talented squads in the competition – when healthy.
And with Mika Vukona returning from injury in the win over the Wildcats, that point is close. Which means Thursday night’s trip to last-placed Sydney is the time to start earning positive results across the Tasman.
“Any win against Perth is a good win,” Vickerman said after the eight-point victory at Vector. “And we’ve been good at home. That’s one of the things right now – with injuries and leaving people out – we’ve found a way to win at home. Now we’re ready to win on the road.”
Vickerman had previously expressed his belief the Breakers, in the season’s opening weeks, weren’t yet in position to find success in opposition arenas.
Two defeats, against Adelaide and Illawarra, came by a combined 40 points, before the narrow loss in Perth perhaps proved a turning point.
That game was played hours after the club learned of Webster’s fate in New Orleans, a question that had been hanging over their heads in the early rounds. And with Webster immediately boosting the Breakers’ back-court, their season began in earnest.
The shooting guard leads the league in scoring, averaging 24 points from five games, and with Tom Abercrombie discovering a similarly rich vein of form, the Breakers’ offence is as dangerous as ever.
Vukona remains short of full fitness – Vickerman said there was no way the club could keep the determined skipper from playing Perth – but his presence shores up the Breakers’ defence, leaving Tai Wesley the sole absentee.
The power forward, recovering after having his appendix removed, will miss the trip to Sydney and next Sunday’s intriguing rematch with Melbourne.
But a fit Wesley, slotting alongside Vukona, Alex Pledger and Charles Jackson, will give the Breakers a fearsome quartet of bigs.
Jackson’s efforts against the Wildcats were possibly even more pleasing than those of Webster and Abercrombie, who combined for 48 points.
The rookie import had 13 in the key third quarter and his energy was highlighted by Vickerman as crucial for victory.
The coach still wants his side to look after the ball better – the Breakers lead the league with 15.2 turnovers a game – and he was unhappy with some missed defensive assignments.
But the defending champions appear poised for another title tilt, providing they can win on the road.