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Dennis' thoughts on the 2016 NBL Grand Final

Will Perth’s incredible depth, physicality and home court advantage breakdown the defending Champions, or will New Zealand’s experience, on-court leadership and big-time players see them win a fifth Championship in six seasons? On the eve of Game 1 of the 2016 Swisse NBL Grand Final Series, nbl.com.au spoke to the NBL Coach of the Year, Shawn Dennis, and asked him a few questions about the NBL’s 38th Grand Final Series. Perth’s physicality is one of their biggest advantages. Do you think the Breakers can step up and match them in this area? Absolutely, I definitely believe they can. Perth has got such a big intimidating frontline and when they’re dominating the boards and dominating the paint on the defensive end it really opens the guards to get out into transition and that’s the thing that they really thrive on. However, I think if there’s one team that’s shown that can adapt to that and halt it, it’s New Zealand. With guys like Mika Vukona and Tai Wesley in particular, they really can match that and I think that there, the two frontlines, could possibly go a long way towards deciding the series. Besides Melbourne, Townsville was the only side to taste victory in the Jungle this season. What do you think is the key to beating the Wildcats on their own court? I think one of the things you’ve got to be able to overcome is the crowd. The crowd is phenomenal and Perth really thrive on that atmosphere. I feel the game we won there [in Round 3], we were able to take the crowd out of it as the game wore on, and then the game we lost [in Round 5] was where I felt the crowd really had a big influence on lifting them late in the game and they ended up getting on top of us. So for me that’s probably the big one. But the advantage New Zealand have is the ‘been there done that’ sort of thing, so they won’t be intimidated by that situation. Three years ago they won Game 2 of the Grand Final Series there and pretty much all of their players were involved in that game, and that’s going to be a big thing. They can go in there with that belief in themselves, so and that’s something that’s so crucial going into this series. New Zealand will also have to combat the famous third quarter explosion that Perth unleashes at the Jungle. Why do you think Perth so frequently break away from teams after half-time? I think they’re just a veteran group and at half-time they obviously talk about the things they need to adjust to. With a core group that’s won two championships I think they just know how make adjustments on the go, and that’s a credit to their coaching staff as well. How do Perth get on top of New Zealand? The big one is being able to contain Cedric Jackson. If they can shut Cedric Jackson down and stop his penetration then it stops New Zealand’s ability to be able to get second chance opportunities where their offensive rebounders like Charles Jackson, Vukona and Wesley can have a much bigger effect on the game. Perth will be well aware that Charles Jackson’s proven to get in foul trouble at different times. If he does again it shortens their frontline and that’s going to make it difficult for New Zealand against this Perth side. That’s where Perth can get on top of them. Also, I think another big factor is the way Casey Prather and Damian Martin shoot the ball because you can chance your arm a little bit on those guys – they can hit set shots ok, but they can be a bit inconsistent. If they shoot the ball well I think it will be difficult for New Zealand, but if they don’t shoot the ball well I think it becomes a different game. How do New Zealand get on top of Perth? If New Zealand can find a way to stay out of foul trouble and get contributions from their bigs then that will go a long way for New Zealand. And I think Vukona plays a massive part in that. His ability to create and also defend Matt Knight could be a really big factor. But Perth does it collectively, they just have so many weapons coming at you. To bring guys like Redhage, Wagstaff, Hire and Jervis off the bench, it’s just such an opposing frontline so dealing with that and finding a way to counter that is going to be a big one. As I said, the real key for New Zealand is Cedric Jackson. He’s been a real key to their change in fortunes with the way he has dominated. He’s been terrific in the last six games, including the two finals against Melbourne. And when he is playing at that level they are a tough team. They’ve won four out of the last five Championships and what was the missing link in the year in they didn’t win it, it was Jackson. He comes straight back in and they win a Championship again. He’s had three seasons in the league for three Championships, so it’s no secret that he’s the real key and he’s the engine that drives them and then everybody else feeds off that. Then you add in Vukona’s phenomenal determination and leadership and that whole group just picks up and goes with it. New Zealand’s forwards and centres are notorious for getting fouls called against them. How does New Zealand stay out of foul trouble? We used a zone defence against Perth for that very reason, trying to combat their big frontline and keep the foul count down, so that’s a big one. The other way is just being smart and making people play through you rather than thinking you’ve got to block shots or go for steals. Last thoughts? If Perth dominate possession, they’ll win the Championship. If New Zealand can break Perth down and free it up for their shooters, particularly Abercrombie and Webster, I think they’ll win the Championship. I think it could go either way and I say that because I know New Zealand believe they can win in Perth Arena, but right now you’d tip slightly towards Perth because they have such a great home court advantage, which is probably the best in the league. But as I said, I do believe it is a toss of a coin because if there is one team who believes they can win there it is New Zealand.
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