Break­ers look on bright side

Nelson Mail - - SPORT - MARC HINTON

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.’’

JA­SON MCCAWLEY/GETTY IMAGES

Kirk Pen­ney is a ma­jor doubt for the Break­ers’ next two matches against the Illawarra Hawks and the Syd­ney Kings.

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