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Double Team

They are two of New Zealand basketball's best ever pure scorers and the combination of Kirk Penney and Corey Webster has now clicked into gear for the Breakers and could provide nightmares for the rest of the NBL. When Penney last played with the Breakers between 2007-2011 he helped lead the franchise to a maiden NBL championship setting the scene for the next two after he departed for Spain. During that first stint, Penney averaged 22.9 points along with winning the 2009 MVP and setting a 40-minute record of 49 points against the Adelaide 36ers as the Auckland-native returned home after playing in Europe and NBA stints with the Miami Heat and LA Clippers. It was in his absence following that first championship that Webster put a shaky start to his career behind him to become one of the league's most potent scorers. He translated that into a starring performance for the Tall Blacks at the FIBA World Cup in 2014 and only narrowly missed out on an NBA roster with the New Orleans Pelicans last year. He returned to the Breakers after missing the first four games and ended up again averaging 19.6 points in a team that made a fifth Grand Final in the past six seasons. With the departure of Cedric Jackson and arrival of a more traditional point guard Ben Woodside, there was great excitement over the return of Penney to give the Breakers remarkable potency at the shooting guard position. The last time Webster and Penney were on a roster together with the Breakers was back in 2010/11. That resulted in a championship but it was still a team where Penney was the star and leading scorer (20.1 points a game). Webster was deep on the bench yet to become the fluent NBL scorer that he now is. No team in the league possesses that sort of star power in the one position and with Tom Abercrombie at small forward, Woodside at point guard and Alex Pledger, Mika Vukona, Akil Mitchell and Rob Loe in the front court, it was an impressive roster coming into the season. That potential came into full vision on Saturday night as Penney and Webster combined for 49 points in a statement-making 26-point win over the Adelaide 36ers. Penney had 27 points hitting a remarkable 7-of-8 from three-point range with Webster adding 22 points (3-of-10 from deep). Abercrombie certainly enjoyed seeing that the combination of two of the league's most prolific scorers Penney and Webster come together. The fact that much of their output came when on the floor with one another was a great sign to him of things to come this season for the Breakers. "The numbers would suggest those guys were able to find success playing together which is probably the first time they've been able to do that this season," Abercrombie said. "They really excelled when they were both out on the court and that was great to see. They were enjoying each other's success out there and when those two get going, it's pretty tough to stop." Having played with him for years both with the Breakers and the Tall Blacks, New Zealand coach Paul Henare never doubted that a 35-year-old Penney could still be a standout shooter and scorer in the NBL on return home for the first time since 2011. With him not playing basketball virtually all-year round like he used or most of his teammates do, Henare felt Penney might be a slightly slow starter this season. But he has seen signs of him getting close to a performance like on Saturday night. "Kirk right now plays hoops for five and-a-half months of the year and spends the rest of the time recovering and getting back in shape, and finding his groove again. A lot of these other guys are playing eight, nine, 10 or 11 months a year so they quickly find their groove again," Henare said. "I've just seen Kirk over the last couple of weeks find a comfort level and rhythm, and almost that he thinks he was doing right by the time by letting the ball work and getting other guys involved. But really we recruited him to shoot like he did in this game, 7-of-8 from the three-point line." As impressive as what Penney, Webster and Abercrombie were able to do, especially early, to set up the win with hot shooting, it was the performance of the whole group to stay focused despite three losses and to come out firing that most pleased Henare. There was plenty more to it too with Abercrombie finishing with 15 points along with Woodside's eight assists, Mitchell's 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, and Loe's 14 points and seven boards among the other standout performances. "One of the things I'm most proud of is that these guys have continued to grow and gain confidence through a three-game losing streak," Henare said. "We have stuck together and stayed true to the pathway we've been on. I'm happy for the guys that the work they have put in on the practice floor and in front of the video screens and the meeting room has paid off with a performance like this. "I'm really happy that the guys can get that reward of playing a good game of hoops." What Mitchell and Loe were able to provide as big men was equally important for the Breakers' performance. Combined with the experience and presence of Pledger and Vukona, the four give New Zealand a potentially dominant front court as well. "The continual growth of our group is going to be finding that balance of a perimeter threat versus inside," he said. "You really saw what Akil can offer in terms of his versatility and he plays both ends, creates something different and he's different than the other three bigs we have with his athleticism, versatility and what he can do defensively. "He's another guy who is new to the league and the group, and he's growing in confidence."  
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