By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Saturday, February 9, 7.30pm (local), Sydney Entertainment Centre
Broadcast: NBL.TV (live); Sky Sports (New Zealand)
Last time they met: New Zealand 95 (Corletto 22, Abercrombie 17, Bruton 12) d Sydney 76 (Crosswhite 22, Madgen 20, Henry 11), Round 16, North Shore Events Centre, Auckland
Legendary Melbourne Tigers coach Lindsay Gaze had a famous saying, “operation successful, patient died”, which would resonate with Kings coach Shane Heal at the moment.
“Our guards have missed a lot of open shots they made in the first half of the year. I’ve got so many clips where we’ll execute but miss the open shot,” Heal said.
But with defences now very well prepared in an eight-team league, the Hammer has been disappointed with his team’s inability to utilise their counter-plays.
“I have conversations where people say ‘everyone knows what Madgen’s doing now’,” Heal said.
“But when Madge comes off a dribble hand-off it’s not just for Madgen, there’s a whole lot of other aspects, but you need to make the right decision to execute and penalise it.”
It’s an area where Heal once again turns to Gaze.
“It’s no different from the Tigers when they were probably the best offensive team for a long time in the ’90s and they just ran shuffle first-and-thirds,” he said.
“It’s very difficult to stop when you have your counters right and everyone is on the same page.”
Offensively, the Kings have looked more than capable against the Breakers’ switching defence this season, only slipping out of contention in Round 16 when they allowed the champs to speed them up in the second half.
“They’ve always got a hand in, guys like (Dillon) Boucher and Mika Vukona are so active and at stages they’ve had success against us doing that,” Heal said.
“When we execute and have poise I feel like we’ve found ways to punish that defence.”
As such, Heal knows some better containment defence and offensive composure will have his team right in the mix.
“We gave up seven-of-seven threes to CJ (Bruton) and Darryl Corletto in the first half and with eight minutes to go in the game we were only down seven,” he said.
“We certainly take confidence out of what happened in New Zealand rather than coming away negative.”
When Sydney defeated the Breakers in Round 10 they led points off turnovers 19-8 and second-chance points 13-11.
In their two triumphs over the Kings, the Breakers led those categories 37-8 and 21-12.
New Zealand have averaged 92 points and made 47-of-100 three-pointers in their past four games. Prior to that they were scoring 76.7 points a game and shooting 32 per cent from long range.
In their past eight games, Kings’ opponents have averaged 17.7 assists, up from 15.2 in their first 13 outings.
Against New Zealand this season, Sydney have shot 46 per cent on field-goals, 38 per cent from long range, had 47 assists to 40 turnovers and grabbed just four fewer offensive boards than the Breakers.
Entering four straight games at home, the Kings are looking for relief after losing six of their past seven, but unfortunately for Heal and Co, NBL teams don’t get any hotter than New Zealand are right now in seemingly every area.
The Kings must throw some unexpected spanners in the works, something they were very good at early in the season, but they must make shots to give their defence a chance to establish itself.
Sydney are good at isolating against switching man-to-man defences, which could get them some good looks, but it will be tough reversing their shooting woes against the swarming defending champs.
The reality is the Breakers have to lose sometime and Sydney feel comfortable against their style of game, but New Zealand’s experience and ability to feed off Cedric Jackson should get them home in a tight one.
Prediction: Breakers by 5