R10 Preview: Brisbane Bullets v NZ Breakers

When: 8.00pm (AEDT), Saturday 20 March

Where: Nissan Arena, Brisbane

Broadcast: ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch

The last time

New Zealand 97 (C Webster 21, T Webster 19, Bach 16) d Brisbane 92 (Law 19, Sobey 18, Drmic 17) – March 3, John Cain Arena, Melbourne

The Breakers seemed to have everything working against them during the NBL Cup but they still managed to play some good basketball and that included this five-point win over the Bullets in Melbourne. They started the game in unbelievable fashion. Brisbane scored the first bucket of the game but New Zealand then scored the next 22 points to set up the eventual victory. The Bullets still staged a fightback to give themselves a chance late, but ultimately it was too much to come back from and the Breakers held firm to make it back-to-back wins at that time.

Corey and Tai Webster were instrumental in the win for New Zealand combining for 40 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists while Rasmus Bach nailed 4/6 from downtown on his way to 16 points. Vic Law battled hard for Brisbane with 19 points and 10 rebounds while Nathan Sobey put up another 19 points and five assists, and Anthony Drmic 17 points.

The now

Plenty has happened for both teams since that meeting in Melbourne at the NBL Cup even if it was only a little over two weeks ago as the Bullets now return home to host the Breakers on Saturday as the NBL regular season resumes.

Scoring points has been no problem for the Bullets, in fact over their last seven games at the NBL Cup they averaged 101.7 of them including 109 in a win over Adelaide and 108 in a loss to Sydney to end their time in Melbourne last weekend. They finished off with a 5-3 record in third place to take out a share of the prizemoney but they would have been disappointed to lose on Saturday to Sydney by giving up 119 points.

Brisbane comes out of the NBL Cup with an 8-7 record overall this season but with two of the best players in the league in form with Nathan Sobey and Vic Law while Matt Hodgson is just about in career-best form as is Anthony Drmic and Jason Cadee continues to play well.

They might be back home on Saturday but it's been an eventful week. They announced the release of Orlando Johnson, signed Lamar Patterson to return but he is still out injured so in the short-term they welcome Jamaal Robateau. But in the lead up to the game, Law and Hodgson had to pass COVID tests, and now Sobey, Cadee and Tamuri Wigness are facing a race against time to overcome an illness to play.

The Breakers went on to win just one of their last four games at the NBL Cup to finish the tournament within a season with a 3-5 record and to have a 4-9 record now on the season overall. But for the last couple of weeks they were virtually playing with a rotation of just the six players with Corey Webster and Lamar Patterson out injured, and Rob Loe having returned home for family reasons.

So it was a brave performance from the Breakers to still play well despite their lack of manpower with Finn Delany, Tom Abercrombie and Colton Iverson now in season-best form while Tai Webster continues to shine when he stays out of foul trouble, Jarrad Weeks is working into form and Rasmus Bach is showing encouraging signs as a rookie.

While new import Levi Randolph won't yet be ready as Patterson's replacement, Corey Webster's injury replacement Jeremy Kendle will play against the Bullets and that will give them a much-needed extra body, ball handler, shooter and scorer out on the floor.

The stats

- By the end of the NBL Cup, the Bullets were the highest scoring team in the league going at 94.3 points a game while the Breakers were the lowest at 83.8 points.

- Nathan Sobey is on track for a historic season if he keeps his current shooting going. He is currently shooting 50.8 per cent from the field, 41.7 from three and 90.0 from the foul line while averaging 24.3 points a game. He would become the first player in NBL history to average over 20 points while going at least at 50/40/90 shooting if he can keep the pace up.

- Finn Delany played all 40 minutes against South East Melbourne on Sunday to close the NBL Cup, becoming the first player this season not to sub out of a game. He scored 24 points against the Phoenix on the back of a career-best 30 against the Perth Wildcats.

- The Bullets and Breakers rank last and second last in terms of three-point shooting this season. Brisbane is going at 33.9 per cent from beyond the arc and New Zealand 34.4 per cent.

The key men

Vic Law – Whether it's the man himself or his moustache only time will tell, but when he has been on song this season and playing aggressively, the Bullets have looked just about untouchable. He has a wide array of an offensive arsenal with inside, outside and mid-range game while his defence is vastly underrated and he really can guard four positions on the floor, and play small or big depending on the circumstances. He's shown a liking for the big moment and big occasion, and with doubt over the health of several of his teammates for Saturday's game, he might be needed more than ever to help deliver the Bullets the win on their home floor.

Tai Webster – He might not always make the right decisions, he might like to take a lot of shots but the fact remains that if he is out on the floor, the Breakers are never an easy team to stop scoring, or to beat. He continues to battle foul trouble and with New Zealand's personnel issues, he just can't afford for that to continue because it's going to be tough for the Breakers to win games with him riding the bench. But when he's on the court, the Breakers have a swagger of always having a chance and whether he's scoring or setting up his teammates, he is having a terrific first full season in the NBL and every time he hits the court, he can be a match-winner.

The quotes

Brisbane Bullets captain Jason Cadee continues to marvel at the form of his superstar backcourt teammate Nathan Sobey, but knows they need to continue to provide him with more support to be successful.

"He's in a good headspace. He has been great overall in this hub and to start the season," Cadee said.

"We just have to find ways to keep him rolling along and get some other people going alongside with him so we can come out of this hub in a great spot."

It's been a big week at the Bullets coming out of the NBL Cup with the club releasing import Orlando Johnson to allow for the return of Lamar Patterson. 

But that will leave them without either man against the Breakers with Patterson still recovering from a knee injury, but they have signed Jamaal Robateau as a short-term replacement. He is expected to play against New Zealand but coach Andrej Lemanis reflected on the decision to release Johnson and welcome back Patterson this week.

"This is a decision that was not made lightly and is made especially difficult given the quality person Orlando is. I have really enjoyed working with him and appreciate his professional and team first attitude," Lemanis said.

"In order to give our team the best chance of winning a championship, we feel that a change needed to be made in order to bring in someone who better compliments the other skill sets we have on the team. It is never easy to make a change. 

"You grow relationships and form bonds with players, which is especially true with a person of Orlando’s character, so I’m disappointed that as coach, I wasn’t able to find a way to help him succeed in our environment. I wish him every success moving forward and hope that he continues to add to his already long and successful career. It was a pleasure getting to work with him.

"As for Lamar, he’s certainly proven that he helps us succeed as a team. We know he is coming-in injured but we’ve done all our due-diligence and, as with every decision or non-decision we make, there is an element of risk involved. 

"We’re confident that the risk versus potential reward equation here is in our favour. I’m eager to watch it evolve over the next month and excited about where this can take us as a team. We all know what Lamar, at his best, brings to this group and whilst there will still be an integration process because we are a different team to the one he has played with last season, I’m excited about having him here. 

"One advantage of bringing in Lamar is that he understands us and we understand who he is. He’s familiar with our offence, he’s familiar with our defence, who we are as a coaching staff and how we operate as an organisation, so I’m confident that will make his transition into the group a quick and smooth one."

Breakers coach Dan Shamir has been impressed with the way Tom Abercrombie, Finn Delany and Colton Iverson stepped up during the NBL Cup, and wants to see more of it.

"Finn has definitely stepped it up, I think Tom did also in the last I would I say three games. Obviously when players are missing others have to fill the vacuum but Finn can play like that. We've been expecting that type of performance," Shamir said.

"Obviously he is having to play a lot of minutes and his professionalism comes into place with how he is able to play all these minutes and still be aggressive and get a lot of things done. But we've been working on these things for a long time and Finn is a great partner, and we've been expecting him to be a factor like that on both ends of the floor and play like that. 

"We're going to have to fight through a lot of difficult things but these are the things to build on what Finn and Tom are doing. Colton is playing very hard right now and we missed Tai in that last game for 14 minutes. We were plus-four when he was on the court but due to foul trouble he couldn’t stay on the floor. These are the things we have to build on."

Breakers skipper Abercrombie is proud of the fight his team continues to show despite having now been away from home for more than four months with no end in sight, but he knows what a test the Bullets are going to present.

"We would love to have a lot of guys out there but as a group I think over these last few weeks we've done a good job of just putting our heads down and going to work with whoever we have out there," Abercrombie said.

"A couple of guys have gone down but everyone that's here has bought into what we're doing and we're working hard. I think we've improved in a lot of areas and we've got to build on that and regroup, refresh and move into this next phase and improve even more.

"They are a good team and we played them well when we played them. They are playing good basketball and like to play pretty fast, they get up and down and try to put a lot of points on the board. It'll be a big challenge for us but we have to refresh ourselves and go in there to try and get a win."


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