Basketball: Breakers champing at bit

SkyCity Breakers Mika Vukona in action against the Perth Wildcats earlier in the season. Photo / Richard Robinson.
SkyCity Breakers Mika Vukona in action against the Perth Wildcats earlier in the season. Photo / Richard Robinson.

Forget about the 16 straight victories, throw out the club-best 24-4 record - this is the week the Breakers are at long last let off their leash.

Having been top dogs since rattling of a seven-game win streak following a season-opening defeat, the defending champions kept winning and kept waiting for what several members of the squad have called the "real season".

With the playoffs finally here, beginning against Sydney at Vector Arena on Thursday night, Mika Vukona and co couldn't be happier.

"Man, it's exciting, that's all I can say. It's about bloody time it's come around."

It can be tough at the top, racking up wins with almost monotonous regularity as those sides below you fight for their playoff lives. Then, after a succession of glorified warm-up games, the switch must be flipped to face a side who have been clawing and scrapping just for the right to make a date with you.

The Breakers have found it difficult the previous two seasons, losing the opening game of their semifinal series as the cobwebs proved a lot harder to blow out than the lowly teams they had faced heading into the postseason.

Those deficits - while inconvenient and leaving the team facing elimination games across the Tasman - were eventually overcome, but the Breakers are hoping third time's a charm when they line up against the Kings on Thursday.

This season, starters weren't rested as the regular campaign waned and, instead of cruising into the final on auto-pilot, the Breakers were dealt a serious bout of turbulence in their final game, yet another double digit defeat to great rivals Perth.

How the three heavy losses to the Wildcats affect a potential grand final match-up remains to be seen, but Vukona is certain of one thing - last weekend will hold them in good stead when Sydney arrive in town.

"It reminded us what losing is, because we hadn't lost in a while," Vukona said. "And everybody was pretty pissed off after that game. Nobody was talking, it was pretty sombre.

"It put everything into perspective and, coming into this game against Sydney, we're going to have to play really well. These guys are a confident team are they've got some great players."

The Breakers are already well aware of that fact. The Kings may have finished with more losses (16) than wins (12) but, having been caught in a mid-table logjam in which five teams took turns taking wins from one another, that record is deceiving.

A quick glance at their performances in four encounters with the all-conquering Breakers proves more illuminating. Sydney won the second of those games by 13 points, becoming the only side other than Perth to defeat the North Shore club this season. And two of the Breakers' victories came down to the last shot, the second of which was an overtime classic.

These teams look like they're tightly-matched and Vukona, who made the first of those game-winning shots back in November, confirmed as much.

"The league isn't weak. You've got Adelaide (who finished last) who lost eight games by less than five - and that could have been us. Coming into the game, we have to be on our A-game.

"I think they've got surprises in store. And so do we. In every playoff - I know it's a cliche - it goes up another level.

"It's going to be exciting - that's all I can say. We need to get up for this game because I don't want it to be like the last two seasons where we've lost that first game."

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