Be careful what you wish for. That is the message the Breakers will want to ram down the throats of the Townsville Crocodiles in the first match of the NBL semifinals at Vector Arena tonight.
Several of the Breakers have taken umbrage at the Crocs' apparent "choosing" of the reigning champions and minor premiers as a semifinal foe.
Breakers forward Gary Wilkinson was in no doubt the Crocs had opted for a trip to New Zealand ahead of a date with second-placed Perth Wildcats by underperforming in the decisive final-round, regular-season match between the clubs in Townsville seven days ago.
"I watched the second half, how most of their starters just didn't play," Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson also confirmed Townsville's actions had been interpreted as a slap in the face by some Breakers. "That's the way I took it.
"It's like 'you think you have a better shot against us?' It's for us to prove that was a mistake.
"Going into the playoffs I don't want my team to have the mindset we are scared to play these guys. That's a horrible mindset. If you are going to win a championship you are going to have to beat the best team so you might as well play the best team first."
Some might argue that is precisely what the Crocs are doing. The Breakers finished well clear at the top of the ladder with a 21-7 record. They dropped just one of 14 home matches - against Wollongong last November - and have won 11 on the trot in Auckland since then. They are also undefeated at Vector, having swept all three matches at the central city venue this season.
"I think they are crazy if they did," was Dillon Boucher's view when asked if he thought Townsville had picked the Breakers ahead of Perth. "Any teams that do that tend to get punished for it. If they really want to play us that bad then we'll show them what it's like when they come to Auckland."
The Breakers won the season series against the Crocs 3-0, winning by margins of 14, 11 and seven points. Wilkinson believed those results would have left a mark, regardless of how badly the Crocs really wanted to win the most recent encounter.
"We are happy to play them," he said. "We beat them three times, it is just a matter of going and getting the job done now."
No stranger to playing in big stadiums in the United States, Wilkinson believed the switch to the 10,000-seat Vector Arena for this season's finals matches would give the Breakers another advantage.
"The momentum that the fans give us and the energy that is going around these playoffs is going to be huge for us. In an arena like that and with fans excited about the game it just gives you that much more desire to go out and get the job done."
Last season the Breakers went into the playoffs having dominated the regular season only to flop in their opening match against Perth. Wilkinson was confident there would be no repeat of that letdown this time round.
"Last year we had first place locked up a month out. We were kind of just waiting for the playoffs and it was hard to get up after that. This year we have built momentum I think we are carrying through. Everybody is ready."
Having polled a ridiculous fourth in MVP voting despite leading the league in assists and steals, classy point guard Cedric Jackson appears to be the man with the most to prove in these playoffs.
"As far as I am concerned he is the premier player in this league," Boucher said. "We all know he is the premier player in the league and he is going to show it in the finals."By Steve Deane Email Steve