The Breakers have five games to save their season and ensure the tenures of coach Dean Vickerman and general manager Richard Clarke end where they belong: in the Australian NBL playoffs.
The defending champions must win all five to keep alive their slim post-season hopes and that tough task will begin against Townsville tonight. Kris Shannon assesses their chances of sweeping the rest of the regular season.
1 - Tonight: Breakers v Crocs at Vector Arena
The game that will either end a six-game losing streak or end the Breakers' campaign. Judging by the 23-point thumping the Kiwi club received in Townsville last Thursday, it will be the latter. But the Breakers are optimistic they now possess two crucial factors missing in that encounter across the Tasman -- health and a healthy mindset. Cedric Jackson was one player struggling for fitness last week and the influential point guard practised fully for the first time yesterday, describing himself as sore but ready to play to the best of his abilities. And the Breakers believe the abundant abilities they boast throughout the squad will be better harnessed, with Vickerman adamant his side will thrive in a finals-like atmosphere.
2 - February 3: 36ers v Breakers at Adelaide Arena
If the Breakers can stop their slump against Townsville, their visit to Adelaide may be the game to spark a miraculous revival. The 36ers' six-game winning streak has seen them soar above the reigning champions but that run will be tested by this week's double-header against Illawarra. Even if they drop both games, though, Adelaide will retain an edge over the Breakers. And that edge is magnified by what has transpired between the teams previously this season. With the 36ers having handily beaten the Breakers twice, Vickerman's men will need to win by more than 15 points at Adelaide Arena to claim the season series, an eventuality that will prove vital if the teams finish the regular season locked in fourth place.
3 - February 7: Breakers v Taipans at North Shore Events Centre
The second step of a revenge mission after last week's shocking Sunshine Swing. While the Breakers' humbling in Townsville was bad, their collapse in Cairns was even worse, admitting their confidence has been sapped after a winless 2016. Presuming the Breakers beat the Crocs and the 36ers to infuse the Cairns clash with some significance, that confidence will be boosted. And with Alex Pledger's injection into the starting five providing a much-needed fast start, the Breakers have the blueprint to find their way in front. Staying there was certainly an issue on Saturday night, with the team's 13-30 mark from the free throw line condemning them to defeat and proving the Breakers' problems are more mental than physical.
4 - February 12: Breakers v Melbourne United at North Shore Events Centre
Three wins and the Breakers' playoff hopes will hang on a season-ending double-header against the league leaders. If they are to topple one of the title favourites, the Breakers will require Corey Webster to find the form he showed last time they met Melbourne, when he poured in a career-high 39 points to lead his side to a big win. And Webster knows, after a few quiet weeks, he must rediscover his scoring touch to close the season. "I need to find a way to get back to how I was playing," Webster said this week. "I'm just performing below average, personally. We haven't been winning but we've had patches where we've played well as a team. Just personally, I think I need to step it up."
5 - February 14: Melbourne United v Breakers at Hisense Arena
Even if the Breakers complete the first four steps of their titanic task, this game could still be Vickerman's final in charge. But with his side left relying on other results to sneak in the back door of the playoffs, the coach insisted his tenure could end on a bright note even without a place in the post-season. "If I come out of the season and say, 'yep, I achieved the vision I wanted at the start of the year' - maybe that won't be the wins we wanted but as long as we played the way we wanted to play - I'll walk away from this pretty happy," he said.