R10 Preview: NZ Breakers vs Illawarra Hawks

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Wednesday 2 February 2022

Where: MyState Bank Arena, Hobart

Broadcast: ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sport NZ

Who won last time?

Illawarra 97 (Harvey 26, Jessup 21, Reath 21) d New Zealand 96 (Wetzell 25, Besson 20, McDowell-White 17) 2OT – Round 3, WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

In one of the games of #NBL22 the Breakers charged 15 ahead in the opening term as Yanni Wetzell put on a clinic, but Antonius Cleveland and Justinian Jessup sparked a Hawks revival to be within two at intermission. In the final minute of regulation, a Tyler Harvey triple put the home team in front, before an audacious Will McDowell-White dunk forced overtime. Wetzell sent it to another extra period, before Harvey’s classy floater put a classic to bed.

What happened last start?

There was nothing classic about New Zealand’s performance at MyState Bank Arena on Sunday, looking lethargic after a 14-day COVID break, they were hammered by the JackJumpers. They’ll be hoping it’s a happier home on Wednesday night against the Hawks.

Illawarra moved their road record to 3-1 with a comprehensive win in Cairns, dominating the final 20 minutes 51-36. The Hawks’ offence got back on track after tanking against Perth, while their struggling half-court defence showed more grit in the second half.

Who’s in form?

Peyton Siva – It was huge blow to lose Siva on Sunday. New Zealand are +17 this season in their point guard’s 114 minutes on the floor. To put that in perspective, all other Breakers who’ve played 100 minutes or more average -70.7. Siva’s past two games have delivered 18ppg at 46 per cent, 7/16 from range, 5apg, 4.5rpg and 2.5spg. New Zealand need him suited up.

Tyler Harvey – After a dream debut in NBL21, it’s been a frustrating sophomore season for Harvey. While he struggled against Mitch Norton and Perth, two games against Cairns and Adelaide returned 21.5ppg at 57 per cent and 7/13 from outside. Against a Breakers team struggling for defensive consistency, Harvey appears primed for another big outing.

Who needs to be?

Yanni Wetzell – On a horror night in Hobart, Wetzell posted 15 points, however he only grabbed four rebounds in a tale of his lack of intensity. He has only averaged 10.7 points at 46 per cent and 6.3 rebounds in his past three games, well down on the 20.3ppg at 66 per cent and 7.3 boards of his opening six outings. Expect coach Dan Shamir to challenge Siva and Jeremiah Martin to sacrifice some looks to get their star big man going on Wednesday.

Duop Reath – Yanni’s not the only big struggling after a fast start, Reath nailing 55 per cent in his first four NBL games, including 8/20 from deep, but that has slumped to 40 per cent and 4/14 from the arc in the past six. The Hawks made a point of getting him perimeter looks in Cairns but they didn’t drop. More importantly, his rebounding numbers have dropped from 8.8rpg to 5.0rpg alongside his shooting slump, and the Hawks need that to lift.

Who’s statting up?

 - New Zealand play at the league’s slowest statistical pace – 74 compared to the other nine teams’ 77.8 – but are the NBL’s second most efficient transition scoring team

 - Illawarra rank second in scoring efficiency in both transition and the half-court, while they and New Zealand are bottom two for half-court defence

 - The Breakers bench is shooting at 38 per cent from the floor and 22 per cent from outside, ranking ninth and 10th respectively. Against Tasmania they managed just 11 points on 4/15

 - Illawarra’s bench crew rank 10th in minutes played but third in scoring (23.5ppg), shooting at a league-best 46 per cent from the field and 43 per cent from deep

Who’s matching up?

Hugo Besson v Justinian Jessup Few would be surprised by Jessup’s offensive output – 17.3ppg at 40 per cent from distance in four games surrounding a scoreless night against Adelaide – but his defensive emergence has exceeded expectations. While still a work in progress, Jessup has become coach Goorjian’s preferred match-up for opposition shooters.

Besson has nailed 24 triples in 10 games this season to lead the Breakers and sit fifth in the NBL. He burst out of a mini-slump to land 5/10 against Tasmania on Sunday, and went 3/8 on his way to 20 points last time against Illawarra, including two massive go-ahead triples in the second overtime. This battle of potential NBA marksmen should be highly-entertaining.

Who’s talking the talk?

While the Breakers might not be winning, for exciting young Frenchmen Hugo Besson, his time in the Hungry Jack’s NBL has still been a hell of a ride so far.

“Obviously it’s helping me a lot because the level is really high,” he said.

“The game is fast, strong, I’ve got to adapt myself for this level and I hope it will help me get to the next level I want to be next year. It’s a big year for me and I think I am improving a lot.”

He’s certainly not all about his own game though, cutting a dejected figure in the post-game press conference after Sunday’s heavy defeat to Tasmania, despite leading his team with 19 points and five trifectas.

“When you’re doing numbers and you're down 25 you know that doesn’t really count,” he said.

“I didn’t play well for my side, I struggled at two points, I made some threes but we were down 25. I've got to be here during the big game when we are in the game.”

It’s not the first time the Breakers have made a horror start under Dan Shamir, but both previous seasons they have made a late charge.

The time for charging is fast approaching however, as a loss to Illawarra on Wednesday would leave them five games out of fourth spot and needing to win at least 14 of their final 17 games to make the post-season.

Sunday’s performance was clearly COVID-affected, but Shamir knows his team still should have performed better.

“It’s definitely a factor,” he said.

“(But) it’s not my job to be thinking about what’s the effect of that, my job is to get more out of the team even under tough circumstances, and to think basketball and how we can play better.

“Today was obviously a day that was very, very far from how we want to look.”

They genuinely looked rushed under pressure – which is the trademark of NBL22 as teams all around the comp up the physicality – without point guard Peyton Siva.

“Me personally, I really missed Peyton on the floor,” Shamir said.

“It’s not an excuse but we were a little bit unorganised under those circumstances and Peyton really helps me personally with controlling what’s going on, hopefully he’ll be back soon.”

Siva’s return would set up a marquee match-up with Tyler Harvey, last year’s first-year import phenom who has is facing some external criticism for a slow start this year.

“I know everybody else has been but certainly not me,” Goorjian said.

“We invested in him because we believe in him, and this league’s tough, and he’s going to get targeted, and you're going to have highs and lows through the process.”

In reality, his struggles have mostly been against the ferocious defence of Perth and Melbourne.

“They switch, they're physical, they're strong and they’ve been coming fast and furious. So just wanted to let him know when you have these down times or you're struggling a little bit that you’ve got his back,” Goorjian said.

“I firmly believe in him as a teammate, as a leader in this group and that he's going to figure it out and get us where we want to go.

“He shot the ball well (in Cairns), I thought we got him a little more rest, that’s been a conversation point, I think he played the whole second half the other night so we got him 34 minutes instead of 38 seemed to make a bit of difference and I thought our minutes and rotations were a bit better.”

Peyton’s return would help Shamir’s rotations, whose absence alongside captain Tom Abercrombie sorely testing the Breakers’ depth.

Regardless of who’s playing, Shamir just wants his team to show their supporters they care.

“We’re playing Illawarra on Wednesday and I want to see character,” he said.

“I want to see us bounce back with different body language and connection. Of course there are some basketball factors in it – making some shots, opening up the game a little bit, catching some rhythm and momentum – but we were obviously pale today on the floor and I hope first of all we will respond.”


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