Mired in the middle of an early-season slump, something has to change for the Breakers.

Of course, a large part of the problem is how much has already changed, with a new coach, new players and, especially, new officiating resulting in a rare three-game losing run.

But the only remedy to their struggles with the rule adjustments is to make another adjustment of their own.

Dean Vickerman knows as much. It would have been difficult to avoid such a conclusion after watching his players hamstrung by fouls in the seven-point loss to Perth in Auckland on Thursday night.


The Wildcats - surely the team to beat this year and possessing in James Ennis the competition's finest player - actually accrued one more foul than their hosts (25-24). They also had three players foul out compared to the Breakers' two, during a game in which the referees' whistles got as much of a workout as the players.

But that's telling only part of the story.

The defending champions have been frustrated throughout the first few weeks of the campaign by calls going against them.

They thought they had their heads around the new rules, restricting physical contact and particularly the use of defenders' hands in an effort to produce a more attractive product. Yet the whistle keeps coming.

"It limits how we want to play," Vickerman said with exasperation tinging his voice. "We want to be an aggressive, up-court defensive team, but at times there's a conservative side of me that says I can't keep doing that. There's a fear of running out of players if I play like that.

"I've got to adjust my coaching style. This league requires you to have a really great zone right now and I need to go and do that. Because we can't continue to play the way we're playing."

Vickerman has particular reason for irritation, having been the defensive guru who made Andrej Lemanis' championship-winning teams into such fierce foes for opposing offences.

He would have thought, after earning a promotion, his defence was the last thing he would need to worry about ... until the league moved the goalposts late in the offseason.

"We cut up our edits from last weekend and we felt like we made huge improvements in taking our hands off [opponents]," he said. "The Cairns game, I thought he got another six or seven fouls called with our hands up and just body contact.

"My feedback [from the league] on that was, 'You were very unlucky on a lot of those'. I don't know what to say on that."

Popular opinion agrees these new interpretations will eventually achieve their aim - high-scoring contests to attract the almighty TV dollar. Indeed, after averaging an aggregate of 151 point per game in their last six meetings, the Breakers and Wildcats combined for 185 on Thursday.

But any casual viewer who would have flicked on the game in a disjointed first quarter, for example, would have soon changed channel.

Vickerman would be unconcerned if his side's fouling has lost any fickle fans but, ahead of Adelaide's visit next Thursday, he is well aware of what is needed to avoid another loss of their own.

"Somehow we've got to find a way to create extra possessions with our defence without fouling. That's my challenge right now."