Breakers look on bright side
Breakers coach Paul Henare may be down on fit bodies, but his belief remains skyhigh heading into the final round of the Australian NBL’s regular season.
It’s a funny old concluding round for the Breakers who open it against the Illawarra Hawks at the NSEC on Friday night (7.30pm tip) and close it on Sunday at the Sydney Kings, and are likely to be without Kirk Penney (calf) and Alex Pledger (ribs) for both.
The status of starting small forward Tom Abercrombie for Sunday is a little up in the air too, with wife Monique due to give birth to their second child any time soon.
‘‘Pledge and Kirk are game-day decisions,’’ said Henare after Thursday’s training. ‘‘Kirk is probably unlikely, Pledge is coming along nicely and should be fine at some stage this weekend. But we’re not going to risk anyone if there’s a chance of reinjuring or aggravating anything.’’
Henare said they would make a call on whether Abercrombie travels on Saturday. ‘‘At this stage we’re planning on him travelling but you really never know with these things.’’
With the top four already wrapped up, and neither the Hawks nor Kings in that reckoning, it’s a pride-only situation for both of the Breakers’ opponents.
The same could possibly be said for the 15-11 Breakers who can’t finish second, and secure home semifinal advantage, and are only a rough shot of improving to third, with the 15-11 Perth Wildcats owning the tie-breaker.
To slip into third, and meet the Adelaide 36ers rather than Melbourne United in a best-of-three semifinal likely to start March 3, the Breakers would need to win more games than the Wildcats this final round.
Perth are away to minor premiers Melbourne (Friday) and home to the Cairns Taipans in the final round.
Henare wasn’t too fussed anyway, admitting that both Melbourne and Adelaide presented similar levels of challenge, and that with the Fiba international window falling smack-bang between the end of the regular season and playoff start, any notion of momentum was out the window.
‘‘Win or lose, you lose momentum by the team dispersing and going in different directions and not seeing each other for a week and a-half,’’ he added. ‘‘But the message to the guys is we’re stepping on the floor to play each possession to win.
‘‘What may happen is it gives us the opportunity to possibly try some different lineups or different combinations and from a system point of view work on some things. And in terms of mindset it’s about staying at that high competitive level.’’
And Henare is adamant that despite last round’s back-to-back defeats to Melbourne away and at home, which followed consecutive victories over the Hawks, that his men are in the form they need to be with the playoffs looming.
‘‘I think we’re in a really good place right now,’’ he aid. ‘‘We’ve played long stretches of good basketball. You can get caught up in breaking down or analysing wins and losses, or possessions or whatever, but the confidence in the group right now is very good.
‘‘We’re getting to a pretty good place with our health and the motivation levels are really high.’’
Henare is right about momentum being a nonfactor, and the Breakers will be a different team when Penney and Pledger return. It remains to be seen whether the cruelly timed Fiba break has the negative effect it did last November.
But he will want to see things flow a bit better this weekend than they did against Melbourne last Sunday, when the offence lost its rhythm after the first quarter, the free-throw shooting was abysmal and defence rather fell away.
Import Edgar Sosa is playing very well, but he needs some help at the offensive end. New addition Rakeem Christmas could also do with a couple of handy showing to lift his confidence.
Henare was asked if he felt his team was better than a third or fourth-placed finish, and admitted it was an ‘‘awkward’’ question.
‘‘We’re a good team, we’re in the playoffs, and we know we don’t have home court. I’m a believer wherever you finish up you deserve to be there ... but I’m confident in our group’s chemistry and belief in each other, backed up by the work they put in every day.’’
And, of course, they know you can win a semifinal series from the No 4 spot, having done it in 2015-16, against Melbourne no less.
‘‘The great thing about the core group is we’ve been into the playoffs as No 1 seed, and we’ve been in without home court advantage. Mika [Viukona] is right, when you get to the playoffs, no matter who you play it’s 0-0, the pressure is on everybody and it’s who performs on the night.’’
Kirk Penney is a major doubt for the Breakers’ next two matches against the Illawarra Hawks and the Sydney Kings.