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Melbourne United v NZ Breakers Game Preview

Melbourne United v New Zealand Breakers When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 4 November Where: Hisense Arena, Melbourne Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ Offensive explosion There was a bit of the old spunk about the New Zealand Breakers as they destroyed Adelaide at Vector Arena last week. “We’ve been a work in progress and I think the guys have slowly been finding out how to utilise their strengths within our system and within our group,” coach Paul Henare said. After starting the season 1-3, and struggling to reach the 80-point mark, a Breakers team filled with offensive weapons racked up a staggering 119 points against the 36ers, the ball humming through hands and then usually ending in the bottom of the net. “I thought the quality of looks we got were really good looks,” Henare said. “It felt like we were creating some shots and our 31 assists reflects that. We weren’t just throwing the ball up from the perimeter, we were getting some movement, we were throwing the ball inside.” While New Zealand fans had been waiting for that sort of offensive explosion since season tip-off, it was their trademark defence that delivered a tough home win over Melbourne in Round 1, and Henare will be hoping for a similar performance when the teams meet at Hisense Arena this Friday. The Breakers never allowed the likes of David Andersen, Chris Goulding, Todd Blanchfield and Cedric Jackson to get going offensively as they limited the pre-season title favourites to 71 points, and while Henare was delighted he still saw room for improvement in the return bout. “I thought we were really solid defensively, and for a group that has a lot of offensive weapons I thought the guys were really locked in,” he said. “Playing against a good team like Melbourne, they're going to make runs, they're going to make shots, but I thought a lot of those when they made a run in the second half were off our breakdowns.” Let’s get physical That defensive starch wasn’t lost on United coach Dean Demopoulos, even with the addition of sharpshooting Kiwis Kirk Penney and Rob Loe. “They still depend a lot on their overall defensive presence and their physical approach,” he said. Demopoulos said Melbourne “didn’t meet the challenge” in Cairns last round, and they weren’t quite up for the physical battle in the paint on opening night, shooting just 39 per cent from two-point range and getting to the free-throw line only 11 times. That’s a woeful number given the Breakers allow more charity shots more than any other team at 25 per game, and with Goulding sidelined and Blanchfield in doubt for Friday, United need to attack the heart of New Zealand’s defence and put them under foul pressure. The alternative is living and dying by the three-point shot, and United have done exactly that, shooting an incredible 52 per cent from the arc in their three wins compared to a miserable 24 per cent in losses. Jackson, Ramone Moore, Owen Odigie, Nate Tomlinson, Tai Wesley and Andersen are all capable of putting heat on the rim through penetration or post play, and good things usually happen when Jackson and Majok Majok link up. Of course, the biggest key for Melbourne to get easy scoring opportunities is their defence. They currently rank second in field-goal percentage allowed, behind only Perth, and first in defensive boards, giving them plenty of opportunities to run. Dynamic duo For many years the Breakers have been the NBL’s best downhill skiers off defensive boards, and against Adelaide that speed off the glass allowed Penney and Corey Webster to get loose in the open court, combining for an incredible 49 points on 16-of-29 shooting. Because that duo have played such similar roles in the New Zealand national team’s offence they have struggled to be effective on court together, but forward Tom Abercrombie was delighted to see that change last week. “They were both able to find success playing together tonight which is the first time they’ve been able to do that this season,” he said. “They really excelled when they were both out on the court, that was great to see and they were enjoying each other’s success out there and when those two are going they're pretty hard to stop.” But even though they lead the NBL with 43 per cent shooting from deep, the Breakers are unlikely to forget where their bread is buttered. With United lacking a true interior presence, expect the ball to head inside to Mika Vukona, Akil Mitchell and Alex Pledger to test out Melbourne’s mettle and defensive strategy. The weakside pass from the post to a shooter has long been a trademark of New Zealand basketball, and they’ll be hoping to replicate the precise execution that delivered multiple open looks against Adelaide from that play. “Mika and Akil between them had 10 assists which means the ball is going inside and we’ve got variation in terms of how we’re scoring,” Henare said. “Continual growth with our group is going to be finding that balance between perimeter threat versus inside.”
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