Basketball: Breakers beatable or nearing their best?

By Kris Shannon

Alex Pledger of the Breakers celebrates Mika Vukona's match winning basket during the round five NBL match between the New Zealand Breakers and the Sydney Kings. Photo / Getty Images.
Alex Pledger of the Breakers celebrates Mika Vukona's match winning basket during the round five NBL match between the New Zealand Breakers and the Sydney Kings. Photo / Getty Images.

It's the burning question being asked throughout the Australian NBL - is this the new, potentially beatable, Breakers or are the defending champions a sleeping giant?

Last night's last-second win over the Sydney Kings gave the North Shore club their fourth win from five games and, on the surface, it appears business as usual at Breakers HQ.

But, particularly in their last two home games, these Breakers do not resemble the side that swept aside all before them en route to consecutive championships.

In both games, the Breakers took handy leads into the final quarter, increased their advantages, but stumbled to allow their opponents back into the game.

Against the 0-6 Townsville Crocs two weeks ago, an 11-point lead with two-and-a-half minutes on the clock was squandered before Cedric Jackson's late lay-up secured the victory.

Then, against the 3-3 Kings, the Breakers led by as many as nine in the last period but still needed Mika Vukona's clutch three-pointer from the corner to emerge triumphant.

In seasons past, the Breakers' clinical play down the stretch saw serviceable leads grow into comfortable conquests, but this campaign has been marked by wayward shooting and opportunities given to opposition sides.

So will this trend continue or will the Breakers stir from their slumber? And, with their current record bettered only by the unbeaten Perth and Wollongong (who play tomorrow night), does it really matter?

"It's a good question," Kings coach Shane Heal said. "New Zealand are going to have their challenges, just like everybody else, but winning ugly is not bad, either. It shows the class they've got.

"When they actually get things going again, they're going to be reckoned with."

Andrej Lemanis and his players are adamant that is a 'when' and not an 'if', and their poor shooting numbers back up that assertion.

It's not as if, in the course of the off-season, the entire roster lost the ability to make a free throw and hit an open jumper. It stands to reason the shots will soon start falling.

"I think we're in a great spot - to be 4-1 and still with our best basketball in front of us," Lemanis said. "We've gotten into good winning positions and we just haven't quite put our foot on the throat yet.

"To keep shooting like tonight and keep winning basketball games is actually a really positive sign."

Another positive sign Lemanis saw against Sydney was in the stat line beside Tom Abercrombie's name. To still manage 79 points when their best scorer put up a donut took some doing.

"That's the way it seems to be," Lemanis said. "Every week we have different people stepping up and finding ways to help the team."

Abercrombie was restricted by both foul trouble and a hamstring niggle, but Cedric Jackson contributed 16 points in the first half, Alex Pledger was unstoppable under the rim in the second spell, and Vukona drilled just his 12th career three-pointer to win the game.

"I'm feeling really positive about the team," Vukona said. "Things aren't really going as good as what we want, but it's early in the season.

"[The offence] is going to come. If we panic about it, it's not going to work. The guys are seasoned enough to understand that, and things will work out."

- APNZ

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