Basketball: Has the tribe spoken?

By Anendra Singh

Deciphering the Hawks' season, it seems, is becoming as exasperating as watching the uninitiated attempting to plant contact lenses on their pupils.

The harder one tries to place the lens with the fingertip the more one succeeds in producing reflex tears that well up in the eyes to make the task slipperier.

The HBS Bank Hawks returned home last night from the Deep South with not a point to show for or, for that matter, proven in their Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) campaign which is fast becoming a winter of despair at the halfway stage.

After a courageous 90-85 overtime loss to table-topping Otago Nuggets in Dunedin on Friday night, the Tab Baldwin-coached Hawks unceremoniously slumped 94-73 to the Southland Sharks in Invercargill the following night.

It's reached the stage where fans must be asking the five "W" questions - who, when, what, why and where?

Okay, so throw in the aberration, too, of "how"?

If, as Baldwin claimed, rebound stats was his obsession in the Friday nail-biter, then it certainly wasn't on Saturday with the Hawks redeeming themselves in that department, 36-33.

Perhaps what stuck out like a sore thumb was the combined 10 points that imports Brian Greene and Darko Cohadarevic eked out in a shade over 20 minutes each of court time.

"It became a non-issue because Southland have the worst rebounding in the league," Baldwin said, critical of the Hawks' defensive systems and offensive combinations. "It was a huge game and we just didn't show up."

The Hawks are now two from seven with the spectre of the Nelson Giants looming amid the prowess of ex-Hawk import Josh Pace, not to mention two matches also pending against the Wellington Saints.

The Paora Winitana-captained side are sitting third from bottom on the NBL ladder, above flogging boys Waitakere Rangers (who the Hawks lost to away two games ago) and win-less Waikato Pistons.

Fatigue, after an 18-hour travel time to play Otago, was a factor but an excuse the coach or his professionals were loathe to use for their mediocrity.

"The performance had things which had nothing to do with fatigue, such as our mental application ... that we didn't have from the beginning."

Baldwin simply didn't want to entertain any discussions of fatigue with his troops pre-Sharks match in what was their worst performance - and that hurt - but quietly he had acknowledged to himself it was an energy-sapping exercise.

He finds no solace in the Hawks, who are effectively the second best defensive team in the NBL and fourth best offensive one.

Before their flight from Invercargill yesterday, the Hawks were preening their feathers, contemplating solutions amid talks.

"We'll be looking at changing our style of play and the combinations of players."

With none of the young guns getting game time against Otago, Baldwin injected all the bench boys against the Sharks.

Hindsight is a good thing but expecting too many minutes out of his top seven to risk losing some intensity was inevitable.

"We needed fresh legs," he confessed. Needless to say, Baldwin accepts taking a hard look at himself is also a given.

Having come off a loss to Otago the week before, Sharks coach Paul Henare said regardless of the Hawks' predicament his side was always going to adopt a bounce-back mentality.

"We got our arses kicked last week so we were going to try to put things right.

"It was also in the back of our minds that we hadn't performed in Hawke's Bay," the former Tall Black and captain of the champion New Zealand Breakers franchise team said.

Having emigrated from the Hawks stable last year as player and then coach after the ownership of franchises changed here, Henare believed the Pero Cameron-coached Saints were the only team to take two points back so far from the Deep South, so that spoke volumes of the task at hand for visitors.

"It's a tough double and now that I'm also part of it so I feel really good about it, especially with the way the teams have been here in the past," he says of the two southern franchises, who have had lean pickings for the past decade. with the odd playoff for the Sharks.

His side came out well in the first half on Saturday night at Stadium Southland (Velodrome), but while he sympathised with the weary Hawks for an overtime Otago match taking its toll he reiterated Baldwin's stance of how it was the nature of the beast on the road every season.

"They must have been emotionally and physically drained and then to get back on the road to do it all over again the next day is a tough ask."

Henare said that like Hawks' centre, Kareem Johnson, import Kevin Braswell's immigration application for citizenship had been rejected but the Sharks always had their import on the playing roster. Braswell, who had a game-high 25 points and seven rebounds, is on a two-year deal.

At the risk of blanching his tomatoes twice, Henare said he wasn't an advocate of the NBL playoff system.

"Everywhere in the world the final fours are played at the home of the top qualifiers where No 1 play No 4 so it shouldn't be any different here," he said, respective of a 2.5-hour drive to Dunedin but accepting "it is what it is".

- Hawkes Bay Today

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