Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Thursday, 28 March, 7:30pm (local), Vector Arena, Auckland
TV: Sky Sports (New Zealand); NBL.TV (live); ONE, 10:30pm (local)
Radio: Radio Sport NZ
Last time they met: New Zealand 96 (Jackson 24, Pledger 18, Corletto 12) d Sydney 94 (Lazare 25, Henry 22, Madgen 17) OT, Round 18, Sydney Entertainment Centre
Only Perth have given the all-conquering Breakers more trouble than Sydney, who have produced great effort and execution at both ends.
“Our overall activity and our determination has been great against them. We match up very well against them – right across the board we've found a way to compete,” point guard Aaron Bruce said.
With a different leading scorer in all four match-ups, the Kings have been able to pick and choose where they go for points depending on what New Zealand give them.
“We’ve been able to stretch them out a bit,” Bruce said.
“They show aggressively on ball-screens and they’ve got some guys who perhaps are a little bit slower. So a lot of player movement and a lot of ball movement definitely helps us out on the offensive end.”
When the Kings have slowed the Breakers into the halfcourt they have been superior, but they have suffered when Cedric Jackson and company have found space early in the shot clock.
“The No.1 way to combat their transition is to make sure we take good shots and don’t turn the ball over,” Bruce said.
A key out for the Kings is injured point guard Corin Henry, whose speed has at times exploited New Zealand’s pressure defence and kept his team’s offence flowing.
Now, a lot of responsibility falls on Bruce’s shoulders to ensure the game is played on Sydney’s terms.
“It’s understanding tempo and making sure everyone stays on an even keel,” he said.
“The key, when you're playing against great teams, is you’ve got to expect them to make runs and you’ve got to expect them to play 40 minutes.”
In Sydney’s Round 10 win over the Breakers, the game had about 140 possessions. In New Zealand’s three victories the average was more than 160 per 40 minutes.
The winning team in all four regular season match-ups had more second-chance points, points off turnovers and points in the paint.
In their three wins the Breakers averaged a 61.3 to 40.3 advantage in these three areas, with the Kings prevailing 60-43 in their victory.
In their 12 wins Sydney allow opponents 74 scoring opportunities a game compared to 77 in their 16 losses.
The Breakers average 80 scoring opportunities a game, the most in the NBL and well above the league average of 75.
Ben Madgen has averaged 20 points and 3.8 assists against the Breakers this season, while when Jackson has seven or more assists New Zealand are 17-0.
Can the Kings keep their composure? In key stretches this season New Zealand’s pressure has forced them into crucial mistakes which have ultimately decided the game.
In contrast, Sydney have also found ways to punish the Breakers’ exuberant pressure and put points on the board in a hurry.
Without Henry’s speed the Kings’ passing game must be near-perfect so they can execute the sets that have repeatedly troubled the defending champs.
In their last meeting the Breakers were often less aggressive defending the ball-screen, and zoned from the weakside to cover the roll-out.
The Kings’ must think their way through these situations to ensure they get the ball back to their stars or present their “non-scorers” in dangerous positions.
If Will Hudson doesn’t play it reduces the Breakers’ size advantage and a monster rebounding effort from Darnell Lazare could give the Kings a similar possession advantage to their Round 10 victory.
A hot shooting night from Ben Madgen would then make this anyone’s game, but Henry’s injury should ultimately give New Zealand’s pressure the edge.
Prediction: Breakers by 9