Speed and pressure the way to salvation

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

Taranaki v Hawks

New Plymouth

It's simple, really. Adapt smartly or drag the balls and chains of dumb basketball from home court to those on the road of mediocrity.

HBS Bank Hawks coach Tab Baldwin sincerely believes the penny is slowly but surely beginning to drop in the gospel of hoop heaven, according to his philosophy.

"It's not an easy style of play. We just have to get used to it and play it every time," Baldwin says, before the Paora Winitana-captained Hawks tip off at 7pm against Taranaki Mountain Airs in New Plymouth today.

As far as the former Tall Black coach is concerned, it is becoming more and more clear to him and, more importantly, to the players, he'd like to think, that the Northern Hemisphere-style, speed-and-pressure game is the way to salvation.

"No one can stop us doing that but only the players themselves," he says, after the Hawks lost to the Otago Nuggets in Napier last Saturday night to sit below the top four of the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) ladder with two defeats and a win.

Other NBL teams apply pressure but only sporadically.

"Hutt Valley Lakers of the early 1990s are the only side that really played to that level of pressure and they did it only offensively.

"I want us to do both, so it takes a certain fitness level and also mental toughness to really put pressure on teams for 40 minutes in a game."

After what appeared to be a healthy lead of 45-34 at halftime, the Hawks disintegrated in the third quarter to lose 81-74 to Otago.

The Anthony "Alf" Arlidge-coached Nuggets, Baldwin argues, were an "improved team" who imposed their style of play on the Hawks who, in turn, didn't expend the effort and determination required to beat anybody in the league, let alone Otago.

He impressed on his troops at halftime the need to muscle up on defence, but "I obviously didn't get the response I wanted".

Fundamentally, Baldwin believes Otago played poorly, by enticing the Hawks to their big men, although BJ Anthony was already flirting with fouling out.

"In the first half we were in a good position but we certainly didn't earn the right to be there."

Instead, frustrated Hawks imports Darko Cohadarevic and Brian Greene were in foul trouble early.

Equally damning was the Hawks' lackadaisical attitude to rebounding, with players simply content with rolling back off the offensive board rather than contesting balls.

Baldwin has no qualms about accepting his men were guilty of playing dumb basketball in patches.

"We got what we asked for. It can happen in any game."

Otago switched tactics to play inside, and the hosts rolled over to let them tickle their belly, as it were.

Primarily he wants the Hawks to come to grips with reality and to ward off any temptations of wishful thinking.

"If Sam [Walker] was healthier, if Dion [Prewster] was older, Everard [Bartlett] was here and Kareem [Johnson] was eligible, then it wouldn't be an issue," he says.

Incidentally, Walker is out of the line-up today because his Achilles injury has flared again.

American Johnson is in the squad waiting for his New Zealand residency for almost a year, so he can't take the court with Greene and Cohadarevic already signed up as imports.

Bartlett, having finished with the Perth Wildcats in the ANBL, arrives on Monday.

Just as the Hawks have to come to terms with Winitana not playing on Sundays because of his Mormon beliefs, the players need to comprehend who they are and not who they can be on a handful of "ifs" and "buts".

"We have to change our style of play to what suits us and not stand in front of big guys and try to pound them up," he says, adding that only exposes the "systems" more than it does players.

The game plan is there for a reason, and the players need to adhere to it because there are "no other alternatives".

In the absence of big-name scorers and a non-veteran team - although the Hawks have veterans in Winitana and Aidan Daly - the harsh reality is young players such as Matt Wilson, Alonzo Burton and Prewster have to fit into the equation.

The biggest mistake, he says, if you can call it that, was the Hawks' inability to squeeze in half a dozen pre-season matches without venturing to the South Island.

"We're now getting it in the regular season so I suspect, as a team, we're trying to get better."

The team morale this week has been good on the heels of some "tough but positive" training.

How productive it'll be will be known a shade before 9pm today.

"I see the early season losses as reality checks," Baldwin says.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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