Throughout the Breakers' championship run in the Australian NBL, merely making the playoffs has always been an after-thought.

The waning weeks of the regular season have generally been spent securing top spot, or resting any wary legs ahead of the true tests to come.

Not this year, though. This year, after a dispiriting defeat at home against Adelaide on Friday, Dean Vickerman gave his team a new target to chase in the frantic final run-in.

"We have to find a way to get there first," the coach said of the playoffs. "There's a long way to go. We've got nine games left and we have to make sure we get there."


The lowering of expectations has been a gradual process over the last month.

Following a rousing 21-point win over Perth to open December, the first signs of cracks appeared in the Breakers' usually-formidable foundation.

Vickerman was unimpressed by an inconsistency seeping into his side even before a thumping against Illawarra saw those cracks deepen into something more severe.

And now the Breakers (11-8) have lost three of their last four fixtures to fall to the edge of the playoff bubble, narrowly ahead of Adelaide (10-9) in fifth.

There is certainly no need to panic and the Breakers have suffered only one more loss than first-placed Melbourne (14-7).

The defending champions could still finish on top of the table - as they did in each of their four title-winning seasons - but something will need to change for that scenario to become reality.

Actually, a fair few things will have to change, judging by both Friday's performance on the North Shore and the mood emanating from the Kiwi club after the game.

"It's pretty frustrating," said captain Mika Vukona. "As a group, we need to take a deep look at ourselves and how we can get out of that rut. Because, right now, it's not enjoyable basketball and we need to find a way of getting that back."

Vukona pinpointed a simple way to achieve that objective. Moving the ball and sharing the load has long been a principle upon which the Breakers have based their success, but recording only 12 assists as a team against Adelaide suggests an offence guilty of being far too static.

"We just have to move the basketball," Vukona said. "When we move it, everyone's getting their touches and everyone's enjoying it. Sometimes, when it just sticks, it's quite easy to defend."

That work will have to begin as soon as Thursday, when the Breakers travel to Illawarra before the teams return for a rematch at Vector Arena on Sunday.

While the season series already seems lost, given the Hawks hold a 45-point advantage, the Breakers' offence will have to keep pace against an opposition who average 94 points per game.

Those games looks certain to have larger ramifications when the playoff positioning is determined, and the same can be said of the season-ending double-header against Melbourne.

But, despite his side's other five fixtures coming against teams below them, Vickerman was wary of stressing the significance of the events of the next week.

"I'm not putting the Illawarra series as any more important than any other team, we've just got to find a method to be able to beat them."