Tip-off: Thursday, January 24 2013, 7:30pm (local), North Shore Events Centre, Auckland
TV: Sky Sports (New Zealand); NBL.TV (live)
Radio: Radio Sport NZ
Last time they met: Sydney 75 (Henry 29, Madgen 13, Crosswhite 12) d New Zealand 62 (Bruton 18, Webster 11), Round 10, 2012/13, Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre
Mika Vukona doesn’t really like talking about New Zealand’s Round 10 capitulation at the hands of the Kings.
“We were so disappointed. I could use the word embarrassed, really,” he said.
While a loss to a hot-shooting opponent is one thing, Sydney dominated the effort areas New Zealand pride themselves on as they ran up a 21-point final-quarter lead before the Breakers restored some late respectability to the scoreboard.
“That hurts a lot. Your system’s shocked like that, especially being beaten on those trademarks. It cuts deep,” Vukona said.
“They just dismantled us, killed us on the boards and our defence was real shoddy.”
This time around Vukona has his eyes set on Kings power forward Darnell Lazare, who has given the Kiwi international the sort of troubles he usually gives others.
“He’s a tough dude. He’s a smart player too. He seems to be in the right spot at the right time, all the time,” Vukona said.
“You’ve got to know where he is at all times, he just goes and gets rebounds and there’s a lot of respect from us, but that just makes me more determined to stop him.”
Sydney’s other import, the pint-sized Corin Henry, also “went to town” on the Breakers in Round 10, piling on 29 points at 52 per cent from the field.
Cedric Jackson was unable to trouble Henry’s ball-handling and New Zealand’s big men could not contain him coming off the ball-screen or hand-offs.
It was just another trademark of the Breakers that was simply missing on the night, but don’t expect the reigning champs to fall down in the key areas this week in Auckland.
“That’s something that’s definitely not going to happen this time around,” Vukona said emphatically.
Against New Zealand Lazare has averaged eight rebounds, including four offensive, 2.5 blocks and two steals, matching or edging Vukona in all four categories in both games.
In Sydney’s victory over the Breakers, Ian Crosswhite had 12 points and 11 rebounds while keeping Alex Pledger to four and six. In the Kings’ loss, “Crossy” had four and six to Pledger’s 16 and 10.
Sydney have grabbed 36 per cent of rebounds at the offensive end against New Zealand this season. Against the rest of the NBL the Breakers give up just 27 per cent.
In seven games since his shoulder injury Ben Madgen’s shooting has dropped from 49 per cent overall and 43 per cent on three-pointers to 38 and 17.
Sydney have been wrapped up by zones in recent weeks and will be looking forward to facing the predominantly man-to-man Breakers.
The Kings have executed superbly against the defending champs this year, who have shown a vulnerability to guarding quick point guards using the high ball-screen.
Sydney coach Shane Heal desperately needs Aaron Bruce and Henry to break their recent slumps and make that play effective again, thereby reducing some of the intense focus opposition teams are placing on Madgen.
Not surprisingly, rebounding will be the key in this one and New Zealand will remember the hiding they copped in this area for most of their Round 10 clash.
The Breakers can’t keep winning all the close games and Sydney are a team desperate to turn their fortunes around, but New Zealand have more than earned the right to be favourites in this one.
Prediction: Breakers by 4