Hungry Jack's NBL
Breakers fully focused on winning Game 1 on the road
The New Zealand Breakers are chasing a fifth NBL Championship in six years and coach Dean Vickerman and his players are doing everything possible in preparation to win Game 1 of the Grand Final Series on the road to bring that closer to realisation. The Breakers made quite the statement in their 2-0 Semi-Final victory over Melbourne United to open the Swisse NBL Finals Series to earn a rest this week while the Perth Wildcats and Illawarra Hawks fight over facing them. The Wildcats and Hawks play Game 3 of their Semi-Final Series on Friday night at Perth Arena to determine who will host the opening Grand Final encounter against the Breakers on Wednesday. With a week to prepare without knowing their opponents, the Breakers have used this week to freshen up as they gear up for a fifth Grand Final of the last six years. "Early in the week we took it pretty easy and it was just a skills session on the Monday. Tuesday again it was a small amount of skill work and then we played a game of indoor cricket of staff versus players," Vickerman said.
"The staff got the win and it's always interesting to see how the Americans bowl and what kind of stance they take with their batting, which is mostly based on baseball. That's always enjoyable and we always try to play at least one game of cricket every year. "We then had a day off on Wednesday and today was the first day that we really got back into it trying to prepare less than a week out from the Grand Final Series. All we can do right now is worry about us and what we can get better at. "We have just started to touch on a little bit of film of things that our opponents will do to us and how we try to counter those offensively. We'll do a little bit on Perth today, a little bit on Illawarra tomorrow just to make sure that it's fresh in our minds about what each team will do. Then we can get our scout ready on Saturday." The positive in preparation for the Breakers is that the Wildcats and Hawks both possess teams they know well. Illawarra's team is coached by old New Zealand foe Rob Beveridge and consists of another former Finals combatant Kevin Lisch and one of the Breakers favourite sons, Kirk Penney. Perth and New Zealand have met in three Finals Series in the last five years. Vickerman knows that doesn’t make it easy to stop them, though, especially when they must win at least once on the road to take the Championship. "Those non-surprises are very tough to defend and we haven’t found great answers for Illawarra all year other than in the last game when we played them pretty tough. We know we have to win away as well," he said. "Our total focus right now is on doing whatever we can to give us the best chance to win this first away game. We are looking at the travel schedules to Perth and to Wollongong, and we are doing the absolute best thing to prepare to try and get an away win." Ideally the Breakers coaches and players would like to get together to watch Game 3 between the Wildcats and Hawks to see their Grand Final opponent emerge, but the 11.30pm start in Auckland mean that they will focus on a practice session Saturday morning. "We have practice the next day and sleep is pretty important to our group," Vickerman said. "I'm sure some of them will watch the whole game but most of them won't make it through it and will wake up on Saturday seeing the result. As a coaching staff, we considered getting together but we decided we might as well just be close to our beds in our own house." With the Grand Final on March 2, 4 and 6, if it goes to three games two of them will be either in Perth or Wollongong, the Breakers' travel plans take on extra significance. Flying in early for Game 1 wherever it is at this stage appears to be what Vickerman and the Breakers are favouring. "It's a huge difference in the two trips. We've had good meetings with a lot of player input as to what they feel would be the best to cover both trips," he said. "Going to Perth at times over the years we've had an ambush mentality to spend the least amount of time there as possible, or during some playoff periods we've gone a little bit earlier as well. I think in this campaign the prospect of going a little bit earlier is the better scenario for us." Vickerman's time with the Breakers is about to end and he is two wins away from the fairytale exit. He already is a three-time Championship winning assistant and guided the team to the title in his own right in 2015. That dream farewell is so close. But for Vickerman, those two wins are still far enough away where he's trying not to think of what it would mean to him. "It was always the hope that you had one more opportunity to win a Championship and I've achieved that part in terms of getting that opportunity to do it," Vickerman said. "Anything moving forward is an absolute bonus and I don’t really want to think about what it looks like at the end of it or how I would react or different things like that. "We have a great group of guys who are playing well at the right time of the year and we are going to give ourselves every chance to get another title."