Earlier court time for centre has given Kiwi team an energy boost

There has been one constant during the three-game winning streak that has lifted the Breakers to the verge of a playoff place.

After coming off the bench for almost the entire season, Alex Pledger's presence in the starting side has coincided with the defending champions' late surge.

The centre will continue in the starting five when the Breakers welcome Melbourne United to the North Shore Events Centre tonight, beginning a 48-hour stretch that will determine whether coach Dean Vickerman can compete for one last title before leaving the Kiwi club.

The Breakers will probably need to beat the minor premiers at least once, either at home tonight or across the Tasman on Sunday, to have a chance of staying in fourth spot. And if they fail to achieve that outcome, it will perhaps be fair to wonder whether Pledger's promotion came just too late.


While Charles Jackson had enjoyed a solid season starting in the five-spot, consigning Pledger to the bench, Vickerman was troubled by his side's lack of energy in the opening stages of games.

But since Pledger began to contest the tip-off -- an elevation that initially produced a fast start en-route to eventual defeat in Cairns -- that trend has reversed. In the three wins since, the balance of the offence appears improved and Jackson has been allowed to provide an injection of energy later in games.

And while that trend has been noted, with Vickerman saying Pledger had "gone to another level", the player himself was diplomatic when asked about his preferred role.

"If you look over the course of my career, I've had success as a starter and coming off the bench," Pledger told Radio Sport. "So from an egotistical point of view, I'm not really like, 'Oh my God, I have to start'. I'm pretty comfortable playing either way.

"But in the last four games that I've started, I think in all four, we have gotten off to pretty good starts. It's been a move that I think has worked out well for all of us."

The success of the switch is also attributable to Pledger's health, with the seven-footer finally injury-free after his torrid previous campaign resulted in off-season surgery. And his fitness and form has arrived at the perfect time for the Breakers who, if they clinch fourth place, could be matching up against Melbourne beyond this weekend.

"It's a great opportunity to send a message," Pledger said. "If we do get that fourth spot, this is the team we're going to be playing in the playoffs, so if we can pick up a couple of wins over them heading into money time, we think that could give us a little edge over them."