Tip-off: Saturday, January 26, 2013, 5pm (local), WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
TV: NBL.TV (live)
Last time they met: New Zealand 72 (Abercrombie 15, Pledger 12, Jackson 10) d Wollongong 71 (Deleon 34, Forman 12, McMillan 11), Round 15, 2012/13, North Shore Events Centre, Auckland
Wollongong are renowned for developing game plans that make opposition teams uncomfortable, but according to assistant coach Matt Flinn it isn't an easy job for head coach Gordie McLeod and crew.
“The coaching in this league is so good that every team has a large menu of what they run,” he said.
“What we try and do is have our defensive rules and make sure everyone understands them, and then certain plays trigger certain defensive sets we’ll go into.
“When you look at a matrix of what teams run, they have things they run more than others, so we’ll focus on what they're doing the majority of the time and develop a plan around that.”
No team has given New Zealand’s usually flowing offence more trouble in recent times than the Hawks and Flinn says it is about “picking your poison”.
“Without disrespecting (Mika) Vukona and (Dillon) Boucher too much, their four-men aren’t great from the perimeter, so we want to make them make plays, rather than them making plays for Cedric (Jackson) and CJ (Bruton),” he said.
“Against New Zealand, taking away points in the paint is also an area we know we really have to focus on.”
The Hawks have also found varying ways to nullify Jackson and last week the MVP favourite received similar treatment to former Crocs import Corey “Homicide” Williams.
“You have to dare him from the perimeter, everyone saw that,” Flinn said.
“He’s such a great player that if you come out aggressive on him with hard shows, that’s what he wants. You're making the play for him, whereas we wanted to make him make some plays.
“His natural instinct isn't to shoot the basketball and so that’s something that worked for us.”
So what has been happening in the planning room this week?
“Whether we do that again, I don’t know. We pride ourselves on not showing the same thing down the floor every time anyway,” Flinn said.
“We junk it up and force teams to their counters. If they're good at their counters they’ll have a shot and if they're not good at the counters we’ll have a good shot.”
Since scoring 28 points at 73 per cent in his first game against Wollongong, Jackson has averaged 11.6 points at 31 per cent in five games against the Hawks.
In those games his assist-to-turnover ratio has been 1.2 compared to 2.2 across the rest of his NBL career.
In wins over the Hawks the past two seasons, New Zealand have shot 53 per cent from two-point range. In losses that figure has been 35 per cent.
Against Wollongong in the past two seasons, Vukona and Boucher have combined for just 2.3 assists a game. In all other outings they average 4.7 dimes a night.
Given their injuries, Wollongong’s performance last round was incredibly impressive, and new import Malcolm Grant will ease the burden on Adris Deleon if cleared to play.
Speedy point guards have troubled the Breakers, especially coupled with the well-spread offence of Townsville or the Hawks, who have quality shooters around the perimeter.
Remarkably, Wollongong turned Jackson into an offensive liability at times last week, so he may see some more time away from the ball, with Bruton demanding more attention on the high ball-screen.
New Zealand are the masters of adaptation, but what plan will they see this week from the disruptive Hawks? As with most of Wollongong’s recent games, this should go down to the wire. Can they finally get over the line?
Prediction: Breakers by 1