Basketball: Breakers make a break

By Kris Shannon

Corey Webster of the Breakers. Photo / Getty Images
Corey Webster of the Breakers. Photo / Getty Images

Two weeks ago, the Breakers' title defence seemed set for a premature end.

The four-time champions were going to miss the Australian NBL playoffs and coach Dean Vickerman's tenure would conclude with a whimper. Now, though, ahead of this afternoon's clash with Cairns at the NSEC, the Breakers hold their finals fate in their own hands. So, will they make it?

Why the Breakers will make the playoffs

After poor body language was reflected by even poorer results during the six-game losing streak that saw them slide out of the playoff places, the Breakers on Wednesday appeared back to their dynastic selves. The defending champions needed to beat Adelaide by 15 points to claim the season series and have a chance of over-hauling the fourth-placed side. They won by 22.

It was the Breakers' second-straight win, following a scratchy but crucial triumph over Townsville, and had all the hallmarks of a team rounding into form at a pivotal time.

They started fast and received huge contributions from their two most important players, Cedric Jackson and Corey Webster. The energy and effort reached requisite levels as they beat a top-four team on the road for the first time all season.

The psychological boost received from the irrepressible performance -- knowing they could still attain such heights and knowing they could triumph across the Tasman -- would have been huge.

We'll discover this afternoon whether that boost can be translated to on-court success, with Cairns representing formidable opposition. The Taipans did the Breakers a huge favour by dealing Adelaide another defeat on Friday, but that result was about much more than benevolence.

Cairns, if results unfold to their liking, can still sneak into fourth themselves, meaning their desperation will match their opponents'. But if the Breakers can repeat what happened on Wednesday night, they will be impossible to stop on home court.

Why the Breakers won't make the playoffs

Of course, taming the Taipans is only part of the equation. The Breakers might control their own destiny, but that hardly means life becomes any easier over the final week of the season.

The champions will close their campaign with an imposing double-header against Melbourne United, tackling the league leaders at the North Shore Events Centre on Friday before matching up in Victoria next Sunday.

Melbourne possess plenty of motivation to finish their own season strongly, sitting narrowly ahead of Perth in the race for home advantage throughout the playoffs. And even if the Breakers take care of Cairns to steal ahead of Adelaide and into fourth, they may still need to sweep their illustrious opposition.

It all depends on Adelaide. The 36ers have a tough test of their own down the stretch, travelling to an Illawarra side also seeking playoff security before heading west to take on a Perth team who may have their eyes on top spot.

The Breakers, providing they beat Cairns, must match Adelaide's results. If the 36ers win out, then so must Vickerman's men. Which will be no mean feat against Melbourne, considering the current leaders took charge of the competition courtesy of an 11-2 home record.

What will happen

Incredibly, after appearing dead and buried, the Breakers now look playoff-bound. They should edge Cairns this afternoon and, as tough as Melbourne will prove, victory at home might render the return trip meaningless, given the stumbling Adelaide's difficult finish.

Their prospects of adding a fifth title will still be far from certain, given they'll cede home advantage against either Melbourne or Perth in the opening round of the playoffs, but simply reaching the post-season will be a triumph in itself.

- Herald on Sunday

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