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Breakers find their chemistry

Here come the New Zealand Breakers. After a frustrating couple of weeks that saw the Breakers drop three consecutive games and fall towards the bottom of the NBL ladder, the tide is beginning to turn for the Kiwis. That spells trouble for the rest of the competition. New Zealand conducted an offensive masterclass on Saturday night against Adelaide, piling on 62 points in the opening half on the way to the club’s highest total in the 40-minute era (119) and a comfortable 26-point win. It was beautiful basketball, the ball whipping through hands in a perfect demonstration of the club’s long-standing slogan, ‘Team is Everything’. “I felt the group was starting to grow together,” head coach Paul Henare said post-game. “We’ve really begun to find our identity, individually and as a group as well.” That identity is one based on crisp ball and player movement, with a good mix of pounding the ball inside and letting it fly from long range. Gone are the days of relying heavily on Cedric Jackson to create open looks, this team is built around a different approach. “We’ve been a work in progress and I think the guys have been slowly finding out how to utilise their strengths within our system and within our group,” Henare said. “Finding that balance of perimeter threat versus inside is going to be continual growth with our group.” The Breakers struck that balance nicely in Round 4, throwing a massive 31 assists along the way. Thirteen of those dimes came from New Zealand’s bigs, with Mika Vukona (5), Akil Mitchell (5) and Rob Loe (3) drawing double teams and finding perimeter shooters for wide open looks. The result was a remarkable 17-of-32 shooting clip from downtown. Of course, it was the selfless Vukona who set the tone early for the Breakers. One key to New Zealand’s success over the years has always been their outstanding team chemistry. It’s something last year’s squad lacked for a stretch mid-season and this year’s team has struggled to find in the early-going. Preseason injuries to Kirk Penney and Corey Webster interrupted preparations but recent signs suggest the Breakers are starting to come together. “[Our chemistry] is a work in progress and something that we didn’t get to work on in the preseason,” veteran forward Tom Abercrombie said. “We’re building now and we’re starting to see some of that hard work – some of the stuff that we’ve been doing in practice that has been great – start to show out in these games. “It’s just about continuing that now, leaving that as the bench mark and continuing to get better.” Henare agrees, adding that the team’s recent losses did little to shake belief within the group. “One of the things that I’m most proud of is that these guys have continued to grow and gain confidence through a three-game losing streak,” Henare said after the Adelaide win. “We’ve stuck together and we’ve stayed true to the pathway that we’ve been on.” Another key to New Zealand’s success this year is the play of four-time All-NBL First Team guard Kirk Penney. The sharpshooter had yet to fully break out this season but shook loose on Saturday night, dropping 27 points on an impressive 7-of-8 shooting from long range. ”Kirk right now plays hoops for about five and half months a year and he spends the rest of the time recovering, getting back into shape and finding his groove again,” Henare explained. “A lot of these other guys are playing ten or eleven months of the year where you pretty quickly find your groove again. I’ve seen him, over the past couple of weeks, find a comfort level and find a rhythm.” Penney’s shooting rhythm is one of the deadliest in league history. He is a three-time NBL scoring champ (2009–2011) and finished top five in his other two seasons in the league. Henare, a former teammate, knows just how devastating Penney can be and wants him to stay aggressive. “He thinks he was doing right by the team by letting the ball work and getting other guys involved,” Henare said. “But really we recruited him to shoot 7-of-8 from the three-point line.” Next up for the Breakers is a Melbourne/Brisbane double in Round 5; two teams hungry for wins after coming up short last weekend. “Perfect! That’s what we want, good challenge for us,” Penney said. “Every team in this league is tough, there’s never a night off. Whoever it is I don’t think we’d ever think of taking them lightly.” The numbers don’t lie: over the past six seasons the Breakers have won four titles and have missed the Grand Final series only once. Ready or not, here they come. Written exclusively for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria
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