Basketball: Breakers have magic formula

By Kris Shannon

Breaker Tom Abercrombie is in fine form. Photo / Photosport
Breaker Tom Abercrombie is in fine form. Photo / Photosport

Fourth place is never an advantageous position from which to challenge for the Australian NBL crown.

Occupying the final post-season berth means a team will cede home advantage through the finals and, in the first round, face ostensibly the toughest team in the league.

But after barely sneaking into their seventh semifinals in the past nine seasons, the Breakers must be considered a serious threat to seize their fifth title despite their unenviable spot on the standings.

The defending champions, taking a four-game winning streak into this afternoon's dead rubber against Melbourne United in Melbourne, will be far from overawed by the hurdles of being fourth seed when their semifinal series against the same team begins on Thursday.

It's true the Breakers' away record this season left a lot to be desired - having triumphed in Australia only four times in 13 trips - and Melbourne's 11-2 home mark certainly appears formidable.

But both of those records would have been a little different had the officials allowed the Breakers to close out what would have been an impressive victory in Victoria back in November, when the Kiwi club were denied by a dubious decision in the final 10 seconds.

That game, along with the Breakers' 11-point win at Vector Arena a fortnight later, showed exactly how the champs can counter the minor premiers. Even Friday night's 37-point thrashing - in which Melbourne rested three starters, a practice both sides will use today - provided a blueprint for coach Dean Vickerman to mastermind a semifinal upset.

To beat Melbourne, as they almost managed three times this campaign, the Breakers must win the rebounding battle against a physical front line and restrict one of the league's best shooting teams from winning the game outside the arc.

With Daniel Kickert and Hakim Warrick missing at the NSEC, little can be gleaned from the hosts' 46-21 rebounding advantage on Friday. But the Breakers will be buoyed by winning the battle of the boards in both previous meetings, especially considering power forward Tai Wesley was a notable absentee.

And while Melbourne sit second in the league when shooting from deep, just behind the Hawks with a 38 per cent mark, in three games against the Breakers they made only 21 per cent.

That's how Vickerman and co can halt Melbourne and, at the opposite end, the season-ending winning streak has seen the once-stuttering offence rediscover its fluency, with weapons Corey Webster, Cedric Jackson and Tom Abercrombie all firing.

"We've done a good job so far on them and I think we match up pretty well," Abercrombie said of Melbourne. "And we're playing good basketball right now. We've had a real focus on ball movement and sharing the basketball in these last few weeks. We're starting to see that show in the way we're playing for each other.

"I think we're starting to get a good rhythm and a good flow offensively. We've been a good defensive team all year and that's stayed steady - now we're starting to see that confidence and swagger on the offensive end pick up."

Whether that continues this afternoon is doubtful. Vickerman indicated his starters may play on restricted minutes, while neither team is likely to delve too far into their playbook. Which, as the coach highlighted, means pre-playoff prognostications can be only so accurate.

"The two teams haven't played each other at full strength yet," Vickerman said.

"So there's still a lot of mystery."

That mystery will remain in today's phoney war, but the battle looming on Thursday night will reveal all.

- Herald on Sunday

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