Basketball: Vukona's status big mystery for Hawks

By Anendra Singh

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Tab Baldwin (right) says the Hawks will prepare as if Giants lynchpin Mika Vukona will be playing.
Tab Baldwin (right) says the Hawks will prepare as if Giants lynchpin Mika Vukona will be playing.

Will Mika Vukona suit up for the Nelson Giants in Napier tonight? The Tall Blacks and New Zealand Breakers captain is listed on the roster handed to the IMS Payroll Hawks but Giants coach Liam Flynn says Vukona won't play.

"Mika's back in the country but he's not available," Flynn says of the aggressive Fiji-born forward who returned home after his Lebanese team bowed out of the semifinals.

The Paora Winitana-captained Hawks won't have room for complacency when they tip off at 7pm in the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) match at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale.

"They've [Nelson] put him on the roster that's been handed to us so we'll be preparing like he'll be there," coach Tab Baldwin says.

The Hawks are enjoying a great ride this winter, sitting on the top of the NBL ladder four points adrift of second-placed Pacific Jewellers Wellington Saints and third-placed Fico Finance Giants, both on 16 points.

The hosts also boast an unblemished record this season, turning their home turf into a fortress with six victories.

It is the longest winning streak so far this season and should prove daunting for captain Phill Jones and his men tonight but it's imperative to note the Giants have inflicted losses in Napier.

The Hawks are coming somewhat cold for this clash, considering they played their last game in Nelson a fortnight ago, winning 82-77.

Baldwin says they had prepared for the "rest plan" and are dealing with it.

"We don't like to go through that, especially if the team are winning.

"We have no major injuries or anything like that so it hasn't come at the best time."

Nelson have eight wins and five losses but this is their last road trip before hosting four games.

The Hawks have an impressive record on the road with two overtime losses and thoroughly deserve their top-of the-table status (10-2).

However, a minor premiership title isn't going to whet the Hawks' appetite when they get ready to rumble in the Final Four in Wellington early in July.

Winitana won't need any reminding that in 2012 the Hawks clinched the bragging rights as top qualifiers but stumbled in the play-offs.

Tonight is the battle of the best three-point shooting side (Hawks, 36.5 per cent) against a team with the best field percentage (47.8 per cent).

"We'd like to be 13 and oh and sitting on the top spot," Flynn says, adding they are happy with their position but far from satisfied.

Not having Vukona, he feels, is an opportune time for his younger brigade to put their hands up.

"We've played the whole season without some key players using our rotation," Flynn says, including ex-Hawk Adrian Majstrovich who is flirting with 100 NBL caps.

Giants import Jamal Boykin is the player of round eight (POW), displacing Good Home Taranaki Mountainairs counterpart Suleiman Braimoh.

The other Giants import, ex-Hawk Josh Pace, is No7 on the POW ranking.

League leaders point guard Josh Bloxham and veteran Jones are deadly from the free-throw line.

"The Hawks beat us in our building so we hope to do the same to them tomorrow night [tonight]," Flynn says, although disappointed to have lost to Advice First Waikato Pistons in the last round.

Baldwin hastens to add forward Angus Riley is a dangerous percentage shooter and young Finn Delany is not just a prospect but an NBL player in his own right.

"He's claiming more than 25 minutes of game time and averaging 12 points a game so this kid can really play and adds to their game."

Desperation to make the play-offs will render statistics meaningless.

An adroit Flynn, he says, has moulded Nelson into a disciplined outfit on the court.

"They are predictable in that sense so we know what their systems are and we can anticipate that.

"At the same time that discipline also means they do it very well," Baldwin says, echoing the sentiments of Flynn on how the Hawks will chisel out a victory on the foundation of the NBL's best defensive team.

He says Pace and Boykin are lethal American imports who are capable of turning defence into attack off a dribble.

"You can try to double team or isolate them but they are more than happy to throw the ball to other talented players."

The Hawks are in a good space with just bench centre Shaquille Hohipa-Wilson not fully recovered from an ankle injury and bench guard Ravi Mani out for the season with a broken thumb.

"Our eight we've been using most of the season are healthy," he says but will fill out the bench with youngsters.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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