Basketball: Abercrombie relishing race for NBL finals

By Kris Shannon

Swingman says the Breakers have a lot of work to do but a great shot of making it through.

Tom Abercrombie is looking forward to a win tonight. Photo / Getty Images
Tom Abercrombie is looking forward to a win tonight. Photo / Getty Images

The Breakers typically spend the final month of the season with their feet up, watching from safety the mad scramble for playoff places.

This year, though, they are right in the thick of that frantic race and, starting in Wollongong tonight, Tom Abercrombie is finding the whole experience a bit of fun.

Of course the Breakers would prefer to be in the position of previous years, sitting atop the table with the minor premiership locked up and playoff preparations under way.

But perhaps the only positive of their 9-12 record sees the champs with a chance to play meaningful games in the remaining weeks, scrapping for wins and - in the best-case scenario - playing themselves into finals form.

It's a prospect their success has denied the Breakers in their three championship campaigns, so they may as well enjoy the desperate dash to the finish line.

"That's what I've been telling people," Abercrombie said. "The last few years have been great - being safe and comfortable up the top there. But we find ourselves in a different position now, with a great shot of making the playoffs but really with a lot of work left to do.

"It makes for an exciting run home and I think it's something for the crowds and public to really get behind."

The New Zealand public will first have to follow Abercrombie's advice from the comfort of their couches, with the Kiwi club across the Ditch this weekend for a decisive double-header.

Tonight they will face the team immediately behind them, a Wollongong Hawks (9-13) side who did the Breakers a favour by upsetting Sydney (10-10) last weekend.

The Kings' fourth spot is the defending champions' main target, and a win over second-placed Adelaide (14-8) on Sunday would certainly help them reach that goal.

The back-to-back games appear an unenviable task for the Breakers, who have struggled to a 3-8 record in Australia during this campaign, but Abercrombie viewed it as an opportunity.

"If we can pick up a couple of games here going into that last home stretch it puts us in a really good position. But we're not getting ahead of ourselves at all, we've got a very tough game against Wollongong, who are right there with us on the table.

"It's a game we really have to win, and then another one against Adelaide. So it'll be two pretty intense match-ups."

That intensity will play into the hands of Abercrombie and his teammates if they complete an improbable mission and take their title defence to the post-season.

Often in the playoffs, it's not the best team that wins but the hottest, a role in which the Breakers would be dangerous.

Permutations for playoffs

A playoffs spot will become a little likelier if the Breakers sweep this weekend's two-game road-trip.

The defending champions have one shot at prolonging their quest for an unprecedented fourth straight title - sneak into Sydney's fourth spot. Their bid was given a huge helping hand when Wollongong upset the Kings last weekend.

While that propelled the Hawks into the playoff race and, with Cairns, made it four teams chasing one berth, only the Kings' results really concern the Kiwi club. And, after Wollongong's win, the Breakers (9-12) can almost ignore Sydney (10-10) if they take care of their own business.

If the Breakers drop just one game in their remaining schedule, Sydney must go 6-2 to make the playoffs. If the champs go 5-2, the Kings would need to finish 5-3. A 4-3 run from the Breakers would open the door for Sydney to finish 4-4.

The crucial factor is the Breakers' head-to-head record against Sydney. While the two sides have one meeting remaining, at the North Shore Events Centre in the Breakers' penultimate game, the Kings would need to win by 33 points to claim the tie-breaker. With that outcome beyond the realm of possibility, the Breakers will advance to the postseason should the two teams end with identical records.

Sydney have a slightly tougher schedule down the stretch, playing each of the top three, while the Kings also have only three of their remaining eight at home, compared to the Breakers' four home games from seven.

A playoff place is still a long shot but it's much more manageable than it was a fortnight ago.

- APNZ

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