Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier, Roger Federer has Rafael Nadal, Jerry Seinfeld had Newman. The defending-champion ANBL Breakers, well, they have their own nemesis - the Wollongong Hawks. The, until recently, bottom-of-the-ladder Hawks, that is. A team who have won just six games this season somehow notched two convincing wins over the pace-setting Breakers.
"They have our number," admitted forward Gary Wilkinson.
On Saturday night the Hawks added a one-sided 80-64 victory in Wollongong to an 18-point thrashing on the North Shore in round six to continue their recent dominance of the fixture. The Breakers took out the opening match between the clubs in round one, so tonight they at least have a chance to level the season ledger, however they must win by over 18 points to claim the tiebreaker. If they fail to do so, the Hawks will have taken the honours between the clubs for a third straight season.
The Hawks have won seven of the last 11 matches between the clubs - a stat that can't sit comfortably with a champion team well-placed to defend their title.
"Sometimes that's just the way it goes," coach Andrej Lemanis said. "It's a good challenge for us now to come out, we get a chance to rectify it."
Hawks coach Gordie McLeod certainly seems to have the Breaker-busting formula down pat, with his key players dominating the individual match-ups and the Breakers' offence frequently breaking down.
While he leads the league in creating scoring opportunities for his teammates, Breakers point guard Cedric Jackson didn't manage to dish a single assist on Saturday night and produced only one in the previous defeat to the Hawks. Oscar Forman dominated his battle with Mika Vukona, with the former Breaker pouring in 29 points on Saturday night.
It wasn't the first time Forman has come up big against the Breakers.
"He certainly shot it well the other night and we weren't smart," Lemanis said. "We didn't have the intensity at the defensive end but as the game unfolded and Oscar got hot we held off him too much. It was just a general lack of mental application that translated into a poor performance."
Wilkinson also cited the need for more defensive fire as the key to reversing the trend against the Hawks.
"If we start off strong and they get on the back foot that is where they start to lose it," Wilkinson said. "We just haven't put them on the back foot from the beginning, that is what we need to do tonight."
Having blown a chance to put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack last week, the Breakers were supremely motivated heading into tonight's rematch, he said. "Everyone is pretty stoked we get to play the same team that just beat us."
With BJ Anthony still suspended for a breach of team discipline and Dillon Boucher battling a toe ligament injury, the Breakers may have to mix and match at power forward. If Boucher struggles, Tom Abercrombie and Wilkinson are likely to provide the bulk of the cover for Vukona.
Having been suspended after turning up for a training session hung over, Anthony is due to return to basketball duties tomorrow. With Boucher hobbled, Anthony's physicality will be missed tonight.
"Obviously that situation is affecting him but it is also affecting the group," Lemanis said. "Of course it is disappointing but what is he, 22 or something? Young people sometimes make mistakes and I am hoping that this is the wake-up call for him."
BREAKERS V HAWKS
North Shore Events Centre