Basketball: Breakers set to fire after talking the talk

By Kris Shannon

Mika Vukona of the Breakers. Photo / Getty Images
Mika Vukona of the Breakers. Photo / Getty Images

The timing was far from surprising but the words uttered would have raised some eyebrows.

Stuttering their way into the home stretch and heading across the Tasman to take on a team who have their number, several Breakers this week acknowledged a lack of personal effort had contributed to the club's slide in the Aussie NBA.

The defending champions have dropped three of their past four games to slip to the edge of the playoff picture and tonight will attempt to climb out of their rut in Wollongong against the Illawarra Hawks, who have already dealt the Breakers two defeats by a combined 45 points.

If ever there was occasion for the players to take a long look in the mirror, this week was it. And judging by coach Dean Vickerman's assessment of a team meeting before the Breakers left for Illawarra, the players have responded to the recent setbacks in sincere fashion.

Said the coach: "We had a good, honest review and a number of members of our group put their hand up and said, 'I'm not quite giving it everything it needs right now'."

Coming from a club who have always prided themselves on excelling in the effort areas - the small parts of a game than can have big consequences - those must have been startling admissions for some to hear.

Mika Vukona, for one, never appears to leave the court with anything left in the tank. But the Breakers captain, while backing his coach, clarified that some teammates' energy might have been misplaced rather absent altogether.

"Everybody was disappointed to hear that in those meetings we had, and when they say that, it's just about not putting it in the right area," Vukona said.

"Right now, we're just trying to channel everything in the right direction and everybody's in unity."

Unity will be needed to halt the Hawks' offensive juggernaut, a unit that has crushed the Breakers twice this season.

Last month's 108-83 result at Vector Arena in Auckland followed a 96-75 defeat across the Ditch in October, but the Breakers are far from alone in struggling to contain a side featuring three of the league's top seven scorers.

Spurred on by Kirk Penney, Kevin Lisch and AJ Ogilvy, the Hawks have won seven of their last nine games to soar up the standings, averaging 100.8 points per game in that run.

"This is the hottest team in the league right now and it's an absolute test of where we are," Vickerman said. "For us to come out and make some serious adjustments and get the win over there is going to be massive."

So how can the Hawks be caged?

Vickerman and his coaching staff have "racked our brains" this week to find those answers and, while the Breakers still boast the second-best defensive record in the competition, the answer may again lie with effort.

"The the defensive structure that we've put in there, which we believe has been pretty solid all year, takes a special commitment," Vickerman said.

"Right now, we're just making it work in patches. And that's not good enough."

- NZ Herald

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