OPINION: Breakers give fans enough drama for one season

By Grant Chapman

Akil Mitchell of the NZ Breakers is helped off the court by his team with an eye injury during the NBL match between the Breakers and Cairns Taipans. Photo/Getty Images
Akil Mitchell of the NZ Breakers is helped off the court by his team with an eye injury during the NBL match between the Breakers and Cairns Taipans. Photo/Getty Images

Win, lose or draw, playoffs or elimination, the NZ Breakers have once again demonstrated their remarkable durability through a season that could very easily have been de-railed well before its final week.

During his three-championship tenure with the Auckland-based club, former coach Andrej Lemanis always stressed the need for a flat-line approach to a campaign - highs never too high, lows never too low, keeping things on a very even keel.

The 2016/17 Australian NBL season has simply defied that philosophy, as five teams line up for a run home that will determine three available semi-final spots.

Probably each one of those clubs will have faced their share of challenges in an ultra-competitive competition, where a single blink could ultimately mean the difference between success and so-called failure.

But for the Breakers, and specifically first-year general manager Dillon Boucher and coach Paul Henare, those wildly swinging fortunes have provided the proverbial baptism of fire for the newbies.

PRE-SEASON
Breakers lose a truckload of personnel during the off-season, including coach Dean Vickerman (to Sydney), general manager Richard Clarke (to Brisbane), point guard Cedric Jackson and forward Tai Wesley (both to Melbourne United).

Veteran Kirk Penney signs a three-year deal that puts him in almost direct competition with Breakers poster boy Corey Webster for a starting spot.

Reserve point guard and Tall Black Shea Ili is ruled out for two months with a stress fracture in his back, temporarily replaced by Brisbane club player Isaih Tueta.

Aussie-based bookies Sportsbet and Ladbrokes both rate the Breakers as fifth favourites for the title, behind Melbourne United, champions Perth Wildcats, Sydney Kings and Brisbane Bullets. The Bullets are the only team now out of contention, while unfancied Adelaide 36ers have already clinched regular season honours.

Breakers are swept 3-0 by Brisbane Bullets in a pre-season series in Tauranga, Napier and Invercargill, and then complete a winless pre-season at the NBL Blitz tournament, with Penney and Webster both nursing injuries.

OCTOBER
Breakers open the regular season with a win over Melbourne, but then lose their next three to Perth, Sydney and Brisbane. They crush eventual regular season champions Adelaide 119-93 at Vector Arena to spark a three-game winning streak.

Veteran Mika Vukona celebrates his 300th game for the Breakers, but not in winning style, as Sydney prevail 92-78 at NSEC.

NOVEMBER
American point guard Ben Woodside ruptures his plantar fascia (foot) and is sidelined for the rest of the season.

Webster scores 20 points, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer, to snatch an 87-86 over-time win in Perth in a rematch of last season's finalists.

American David Stockton, son of NBA legend John Stockton, makes his Breakers debut, replacing Woodside, in a 100-85 home win over Illawarra Hawks that sends the crowd home with free burgers. Two days later, they lose by 31 points to the same opponents on the road to start a four-game slump.

Webster is charged with assault, after an incident at a Takapuna bar, while celebrating his birthday.

DECEMBER
Small forward Tom Abercrombie is ruled out for up to six weeks with a broken hand.

Short-handed through injuries to Webster and Abercrombie, American Paul Carter is signed as a third import player.

JANUARY
Centre Alex Pledger celebrates his 200th game for the Breakers, but Cairns rains on his parade with a 65-63 win.

Webster is finally closed down for the season, so he can have surgery on a troublesome hip and address his legal issues.

Woodside and Stockton return to the United States, while another American point guard Kevin Dillard is signed for the rest of the season.

Slipping out of contention, the Breakers roll out a four-game winning streak against Sydney, Brisbane, Illawarra and Perth, completing a 3-1 series win over the defending champions, to keep their hopes alive.

American centre Akil Mitchell has an eyeball dislodged during the final quarter of a loss to Cairns at NSEC. His team-mates are visibly shaken and cannot rally for the win, then drop their next game against Sydney by 27 points without him. Mitchell eventually returns to the US without playing again.

FEBRUARY
Seemingly gone for all money, Penney (21 points) leads the Breakers to a plucky 88-87 road win over regular season champions Adelaide, earning one last shot at the playoffs.

There's no under-estimating the amount of emotional energy all of that takes out of a team during the course of a season, so if you're following as a fan, multiply your blood pressure by about 100, and you may be somewhere near where Boucher and Henare live on daily basis.

Whether they make it as far as the playoffs - and there are any number of results needed this week for that to happen - the Breakers have already provided about as much drama as their supporters can handle.

Not every team can win the championship and the Breakers have done exceedingly well to bring four home (plus last year's runner-up finish) in the past six years.

The best you can expect from your team is to consistently compete, which the Breakers have done yet again.

Considering the number of changes they have undergone since last season's final, Boucher, Henare and their support crew have shown remarkable resilience to keep their team in contention this long.

Reflect on that as they prepare for their must-win against Melbourne on Friday.

- NZ Herald

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