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New Zealand Breakers v Cairns Taipans Game Preview

New Zealand Breakers v Cairns Taipans When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Friday 11 November Where: Vector Arena, Auckland Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ Happy reunion The reunion of Aaron Fearne and Nate Jawai in Cairns has long been anticipated by fans of old-school, big-man basketball. Fearne’s knowledge of Jawai’s strengths and weaknesses, and his close bond with the man he has mentored since he was a teenager, were seen as key ingredients to bringing the best out of the former NBA and Euroleague big man. Last round, the vision many had of Jawai as the centrepiece of the Taipans’ offence started to become a reality, especially Monday as he burned the Kings for 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting. But it wasn’t just a case of throwing the ball to the low post and watching Jawai go to work, Cairns moved the ball with precision to isolate their centre deep in the paint, where his size made him almost impossible to stop. Cairns had 36 assists on 48 made field goals last round, and sit second in the NBL in assist-to-FGM ratio behind only the Breakers. “The way they work and use the talent they have available, and put people in positions that are tough to defend, I’ve got great, great respect for what they do,” Kings coach Andrew Gaze said after Monday’s game. Of course, while scoring comes easy for Jawai when used so effectively, Fearne is demanding plenty from his big man and was delighted with his all-court contribution in Sydney. “Nate was very good tonight, his best game,” Fearne said. “I thought he defended better, he really finished around the rim. I thought he established himself as a major threat in the paint, made plays through contact, knocked down his free throws, rebounded better.” Rivalries renew Jawai and the Taipans now head to Auckland on Friday night to take on familiar rivals. Twice Cairns have made the NBL Grand Final as a Cinderella story, and twice the New Zealand Breakers have fast forwarded the clock to midnight to end the Far North Queensland city’s dreams of a date with the Dr John Raschke Trophy. Last year, as a Wildcat, Jawai engaged in a series of memorable battles with Breakers giant Alex Pledger as New Zealand resisted double-teaming big Nate for most of their seven meetings. Jawai ultimately had the last laugh with a dominant performance in Game 1 of the championship series and a title after a lop-sided decider, but he faces a different ‘Pledgehammer’ this Friday night. Last fully fit in 2012/13 when he was the defensive lynchpin of New Zealand’s third-straight title, Pledger has bravely limped his way through the past three seasons. But after a long off-season of rehab he is starting to resemble the interior force the Breakers know he can be. “I don’t want to talk about previous injuries from the past couple of years too much, but I’ve worked pretty hard to get back to pretty good form and I think I’d been solid but unspectacular through the first five games of the year,” Pledger said. “I think my form in practice the last couple of weeks had been quite good and I knew one of those breakout games was just around the corner.” Defensive anchor Pledger had two breakout games last weekend to lead the Breakers past Melbourne and Brisbane and into third spot on the ladder. The 215cm giant had 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting and 10 rebounds to dominate United, and then backed it up with 12 points, 12 boards and three blocked shots as he led a shutdown of the Bullets’ offence. “In the second half there was a period there where he just seemed to own the boards, in traffic too, it wasn’t as though he was picking off cheap rebounds,” coach Paul Henare said. “He’s made some tremendous progress this week, we talk to the big fella a lot about just staying positive with himself, backing himself. “If he can just be that anchor for us defensively, three blocked shots and without seeing the tape how many more he would have changed, and I’m sure he contributed a lot towards Brisbane shooting 29 per cent in the paint.” There is no time for Pledger and friends to rest on their laurels, however, as the Taipans are also starting to roll. After dropping their first three games they defeated Melbourne, Illawarra and Sydney in impressive fashion before coming within a whisker of knocking off the Kings on the road. Doing it with D Jawai, Cam Gliddon, Mark Worthington and Fuquan Edwin are playing outstanding basketball, while Jarrad Weeks, Mitch McCarron, Damon Heuir and Nnanna Egwu continue to play their roles to cover for the injured Travis Trice and Alex Loughton. While there is a lot to like about the Taipans’ current form, Fearne was not happy with some of their late-game defensive efforts on Monday, knowing that won’t do against a New Zealand team averaging 101ppg in their past three outings. “We just lacked some real discipline at crucial times defensively,” he said after the loss to Sydney. “I’m a stickler about being really disciplined with the system and trusting the team rules and we just had some shooting of gaps, not switching the correct way… “On the road when you get two opportunities in a quarter you’ve got to make it a 10-point game, if you just let the team back in then the home team’s likely to do what they just did.” While the Breakers will be without the injured Ben Woodside, who is leading the league in assists, with the likes of Kirk Penney, Tom Abercrombie, Akil Mitchell, Corey Webster, Rob Loe and Pledger they still have more than enough avenues to the basket. But they’ve been getting the job done at both ends, outscoring Melbourne and Brisbane 57-31 after three-quarter-time last round, allowing a miserly 11-of-39 shooting in those periods to create plenty of opportunities to rebound and run. “We feel like we can attack in multiple ways,” Henare said. “The key thing for us really is we’re pretty confident the offensive side of things will work itself out, because we do have multiple threats around the floor, for us it’s about defence.”
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