Breakers dominance casts doubt over quality of league

By Michael Brown

The Breakers' incredible 15-match winning run has drawn considerable adulation for the club but it has also prompted examination about the quality of the league. Photo / Getty Images.
The Breakers' incredible 15-match winning run has drawn considerable adulation for the club but it has also prompted examination about the quality of the league. Photo / Getty Images.

The Breakers' incredible 15-match winning run has drawn considerable adulation for the club but it has also prompted examination about the quality of the league.

The two-time defending champions and great rivals Perth have set the standard in the ANBL over the past three years and seem destined for another grand final rematch next month. The two clubs are some distance ahead of the pack this season - the Breakers sit at 23-3 and Perth are 20-6 - and will be the only ones among the eight teams to finish the regular season with more wins than defeats.

It has drawn comparisons with Scottish football, which was dominated by Celtic and Rangers until Rangers were relegated last year to the third division because of liquidation.

"Suggestions the quality of the league is lower aren't right," Breakers general manager Richard Clarke said. "We have two teams who have cleared out and the rest of them are very, very even.

We are two weeks from playoffs and five teams are fighting for spots three and four. There's a scenario where all five could finish on 11 wins and have to go into a tiebreak situation.

"The quality of the league is still strong. Look how many games we have won by just one or two points because guys have executed better or wanted it more. There haven't been a lot of blowouts. To have only one team fall off the pace at this stage shows it's pretty even."

Nine of the Breakers' 23 wins have been by five points or less, including three of their last five. Remarkably, the three games against Perth have seen some of the biggest blowouts with Perth winning the first two games by 19 and 25 points before the Breakers won the third by 17.

In a tantalising quirk of the draw, the two sides play their final regular season games in Perth on March 22 but the Breakers have already locked up the minor premiership and, with it, home court advantage in the playoffs.

ANBL general manager Chuck Harmison said they weren't overly concerned about the dominance of two teams and pointed to the fact the Breakers had been relatively injury-free as a factor in their success. He also applauded their development system that has seen the likes of Tom Abercrombie, Alex Pledger, Corey Webster and Leon Henry come through, as well as their coaching and culture.

"It's not always a bad thing to have a dynasty," Harmison said. "The NBA was never stronger than when the Chicago Bulls were on a roll and it was the Boston Celtics before them. It helps create rivalries and gives other teams someone to hate and cheer against."

The ANBL have both a salary cap (A$1 million) and a points system (all 10 players are rated between one and 10 and must fit under 70 points) in an effort to try to create a level playing field.

The Breakers hold an advantage as the only professional team in New Zealand but Sydney and Melbourne can also draw on populations in excess of four million.

One of their two imports, Will Hudson, is still struggling with a knee injury and will miss tomorrow night's game against Melbourne at the North Shore Events Centre, but it's hoped the big American will play 10-15 minutes against Perth next week.

- APNZ

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