Basketball: Broken Breakers need miracle after Xmas

By Kris Shannon

Holiday break means struggling side can regroup and aim high.

The NZ Breakers will have to find some solutions to the problems that have sent them on a first-to-worst slide this season during the holiday hiatus. Photo / Getty Images
The NZ Breakers will have to find some solutions to the problems that have sent them on a first-to-worst slide this season during the holiday hiatus. Photo / Getty Images

There is one positive for the Breakers as they head into the holiday hiatus - at least there won't be any more losses in the next fortnight.

With 15 games remaining on the resumption of the Australian NBL, the defending champions need a Christmas miracle to reverse their fortunes and resurrect their stuttering season.

Their title defence isn't dead but it is on life support. At 4-9, the Kiwi club will need to win twice as many as they lose from here just to finish 14-14.

It's achievable, and that record would have secured third spot and a playoff place last season. But the Breakers must address their problems down the stretch, which have seen them squander a number of winnable games. They have to develop a way to consistently play the type of defence which limited Perth to a record low 22 points in the second half of Friday night's 71-62 defeat.

A combination of factors have seen a team once regarded as the premier closers in the competition resemble a nervous outfit with no nous in the clutch.

Last year in the regular season, excluding meetings with the Wildcats, the Breakers were a sure thing.

No matter the scenario, a punter could put the house on the champs finding a way to win.

The Breakers played 11 games in which the final margin was 10 or fewer, and they won them all. That kind of record is untenable and, with eight defeats in 11 such games already this season, perhaps their luck is averaging out.

Another issue is a pair of rookies in two of the most important positions down the stretch - running the point and drawing up plays on the sidelines.

Kerron Johnson blew out the candles on his 23rd birthday cake on Saturday, a reminder of the callow player the Breakers have in such a crucial position. The guard has shown he has the ability - averaging 13.2 points and 4.1 assists per game - but in his first year of professional basketball he is still learning how to convert close games into victories.

Coach Dean Vickerman probably wishes he had a player like Cedric Jackson to call on when things get tight, someone who regularly took over games and willed his side to wins.

The first-year coach has found little success when calling plays in the final minutes and, while execution plays a large part, that was exemplified when his charges failed to get away a decent shot in last weekend's two-point loss to the Tigers.

Finding a time machine for CJ Bruton would go some way to curing what ails the Breakers down the stretch, with the veteran no longer to be relied on late in games. On that point, as evidenced by his seven minutes playing Perth, Vickerman may be learning.

His players may also be learning how to implement a lockdown defence in the days of the dreaded rule adjustments, if the second half against the Wildcats was anything to go by.

Heading into the game, the Breakers' defence was second-worst in the league, being burned to an average of 87 points a game. The 71 they conceded against Perth were the fewest the Breakers have given up all season, built on a seven-minute scoreless stretch for the visitors in the third quarter.

If the Breakers have finally found a system to disrupt teams defensively without the kind of physicality now illegal, it will go a long way to sparking a second-half revival.

Because the other pieces are there. Mika Vukona is in the form of his career. Tom Abercrombie and Gary Wilkinson - before being hampered on Friday night - have shown glimpses they can again be the spree scorers they once were.

And the Breakers don't have to run the table from here on out.

Only two teams (Perth Wildcats and Adelaide 36ers) have winning records and third place is eminently attainable, given 6-6 Melbourne occupy that spot.

Where they lie, mired in the middle of a shocking loss of form, third place would represent a resoundingly successful season.


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