Basketball: No let up for the Breakers

By Kris Shannon

Daryl Corletto of the Breakers supports the team during the round 22 NBL match between the New Zealand Breakers and the Cairns Taipans. Photo / Getty Images.
Daryl Corletto of the Breakers supports the team during the round 22 NBL match between the New Zealand Breakers and the Cairns Taipans. Photo / Getty Images.

After Thursday night's exertions against Cairns, the Breakers could be forgiven for taking the foot off the throttle heading into the final stretch.

The defending champions need only one win from their last three games to clinch home court advantage throughout the playoffs, so resting the legs would be understandable.

But it's not in the Breakers' plans. Even if they seal the minor premiership sooner rather than later, they're not about to kick back and relax until the real competition begins at the end of the month.

They will continue to bring the same intensity to each contest because they have been burnt before by taking their eye off the ball.

It's one of the oddities of the Breakers' successes; both of the previous championship-winning campaigns began with a loss in their first playoff game.

Those defeats, to Perth in 2011 and Townsville last year, left the Breakers facing must-win contests across the Tasman to keep alive their season, something coach Andrej Lemanis is determined to prevent.

"In the last two years, we've been assured of top spot pretty early," he said. "Invariably, the team that finishes fourth have had to scrape in there.

"They've been playing for their lives for often three or four weeks and they're at that place - and we weren't at that place in game one.

"That for me is the biggest learning - ensuring that we are in that place for game one."

Which means the double-header against Melbourne, beginning in Victoria on Sunday afternoon, will be approached with caution no matter the stakes.

The Tigers are currently on the cusp of the finals, sitting in fifth and with five games still on their schedule. That scenario, according to Lemanis, makes them ideal opposition for a Breakers team attempting to maintain the extraordinary level that has seen them win 14 games in a row.

"I love our draw coming home," he said. "[Melbourne] are desperate, they're fighting for their lives, and I think that's a great place for us to be. You need to go into the playoffs playing at an intensity level that's going to be playoff basketball."

That extends to the season-ending trip against Perth, their probable opponents in the grand final. The game could very well be a dead rubber but, unlike last season when the Breakers suited up only eight players for their final game, Lemanis has no intention of resting any of his roster.

"We've had a rest - we had 13 days off," he said, referring to a stretch on the sidelines late last month. "In that last game against Perth, if positions aren't still on the line we'll go over and play people because we want to stay in the rhythm."

That Perth game should also mark the return from injury of Will Hudson. The American big man has missed three games with a knee injury, and the Breakers will be desperate to have him in back in uniform for the playoffs.

They have coped admirably in his absence, though, with Alex Pledger stepping up his role under the rim and celebrating his 100th game for the Breakers with a career-high 20 points against Cairns. He, like his coach, was well aware the battling win was a perfect precursor for the bigger challenges which await.

"During the win streak, we've won in a bunch of different styles," he said. "This is the first one where I don't think we led after the first quarter until the last 30 seconds. A game like this is perfect going into the playoffs, against a good team who's fighting for their lives."


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