R11 Preview: Cairns Taipans vs NZ Breakers

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Monday 14 February, 2022

Cairns Convention Centre

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won last time?
New Zealand 84
(T Webster 23, C Webster 16, Iverson 15) d Cairns 78 (Machado 21, Jawai 14, Deng 11) – Round 21 2021, Energy Events Centre, Rotorua

With both teams’ NBL21 seasons all-but wrapped up, they put on an entertaining back-and-forth show in Rotorua, with 39 points at 54 per cent from the Webster brothers ultimately the difference, Tai’s last-minute triple the back-breaker and Corey’s free throws the sealer.

What happened last start?

After winning three-of-five to start the new year, New Zealand headed to Sydney full of confidence and copped a hiding. Gone was the ultra-physical defence that had beheaded the Hawks four days earlier, and the Breakers were smashed in the paint, on the glass and in the half-court as their pair of playmaking imports struggled to get anything going.

Cairns did plenty right in Wollongong on Saturday but couldn’t defend the interior and were dominated on the o-boards during the Hawks’ decisive third-quarter run, falling 14 behind and never quite making the home team blink despite several runs. The biggest positive was the return of Scott Machado, the Snakes looking good whenever their PG was on court.

Who’s in form?

Tahjere McCall – Cairns’ swingman rolled out 17 points at 50 per cent, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and a facial jam that will challenge Mitch Creek, Xavier Cooks and Jaylen Adams for dunk of the year. Pleasingly, McCall coughed up just one turnover – after 20 in his previous three games – and with Machado back he can spend more time in his natural position.

Yanni Wetzell – On a dreary offensive night in Sydney, Wetzell’s 16 points on 6/10 shooting, along with three assists and two o-boards, were a bright spot. After a brief cold spell, Yanni has averaged 17.7 points at 63 per cent in his past three games, but he has grabbed five defensive rebounds just once in the past four games, and the Breakers need more from their big man.

Who needs to be?

Stephen Zimmerman – Big Zimm has the big job on Wetzell, and while he may lack the mobility of the light-footed Kiwi, Yanni hasn’t hit from beyond five feet since Boxing Day. Zimm needs to keep his frame between Wetzell and the basket, particularly on roll-outs, and the league’s leading rebounder must dominate Yanni on the glass and finish inside.

Chasson Randle – During his hot streak of four games, Jeremiah Martin averaged 19.0ppg at 52 per cent, 4.8apg and was the Breakers’ best player, so replacing him is a big call. Can Randle replace his playmaking while giving a greater outside threat? Quite possibly, this is a man who once knocked in 20 in 25 minutes on the Bulls at 80 per cent from inside and out.

Who’s statting up?

 - In his final four NBA games for the Magic, Randle averaged 11.0ppg at 48 per cent in 25 minutes per night. He scored double figures in eight of his last 15 NBA outings

 - In Cairns wins, Zimmerman averages 11.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.0 o-boards and 3.0 assists. In losses, that shrinks to 9.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.0 o-boards and 1.0 assist

 - In their past two wins, New Zealand have grabbed 80 per cent of available defensive rebounds. In their past three losses, they’ve pulled in just 59 per cent of d-boards

 - The Taipans force 18 turnovers per game in wins, compared to 12.6 in losses. New Zealand are second in the NBL for ball security with just 11.2 cough-ups per night

Who’s matching up?

Scott Machado v Peyton Siva – Scotty will only play nine minutes, they said. Sure coach! Machado’s long-awaited return reminded everyone how good he is, scoring 16 points in 15 minutes and going a game-high +14 in a losing side. How many minutes can his recovering body take two nights later? The answer to that could have a big say in Cairns’ chances.

As Siva has gone, so have New Zealand this season, the team +20 with their point guard on court and -116 the rest of the way. As a point of comparison, the next best Breaker is Martin at -50. After averaging 16.7 points at 48 per cent in three games leading in, Peyton had just 11 on 3/9 against Sydney, and will be looking for a big bounce-back against Machado and Co.

Who’s talking the talk?

It really is crunch time for the Breakers. While their season has been on edge for some time, three wins in the new year gave renewed hope of a resurgence.

In particular, their 90-67 demolition of a quality Hawks team showed they could play at the intensity required to beat the best, but four nights later in Sydney that had evaporated.

“Disappointing is an understatement,” coach Dan Shamir said afterwards.

“At least a few days ago we played extremely hard, a lot of great possessions on effort, on defence touching the ball and getting in passing lanes and making opponents feel us.

“We didn’t do it (against Sydney) and we gave up 50 points (in the first half), we struggled defensively the whole game.”

Hawks boss Brian Goorjian spoke of how New Zealand brought “the grabbing, the holding, the bumping” to their clash, and Shamir wants to see that physical NBL-style defence from his team on a far more consistent basis.

“The way we played versus the Hawks is the baseline, it was nothing extraordinary, we should bring it every day, every game,” he said.

“Sometimes it will be a great game, sometimes you’ll fall short, but you’ll do it every day. We are not successful with it, first of all with the people side of it, we all have to think about what we can do (better).”

As it stands, the 3-9 Breakers can still move within three games of the top four with a win over Cairns on Monday night, but a loss would put their playoff hopes firmly in miracle territory.

For the Taipans, things aren't quite so urgent.

“We’re still early in the season, right?” coach Forde said.

“A lot of teams have played half their games already and we’re fortunate enough that one of the silver linings with the delays from COVID, today was our eighth game.”

The most fortunate thing was, despite lengthy injury lay-offs for star imports Tahjere McCall and Scott Machado, they have only missed one and five games respectively.

While commentators debated why Machado’s minutes were severely limited in Wollongong, a look at the fixture revealed the Taipans’ medical staff’s thinking.

“I got the OK from our physio Tom that we could extend him out a little bit,” Forde said.

“He was a point-a-minute and +14 when he was out there. But we’ve got to back it up with another game against New Zealand at home, so factoring in that it’s his first game back after an extended time in rehab, naturally he’s going to be sore tomorrow.

“As much I wanted to play him as much as I could, I’m also trying to keep one eye on the future.”

Machado’s growing presence on the floor will result in plenty more easy looks, but the Taipans need to make the easy ones, like McCall made the difficult look easy.

“We missed a lot of little bunnies and a lot of shots, then we actually turned down a few looks where I thought we tightened up because maybe guys lost confidence in their shot,” Forde said.

“What did we shoot? 35 per cent. You’re not going to win too many games shooting 35 per cent. I think in the second half our paint touches were 2/15 or 2/16.

“We've got our floor general back, he can help steady the ship, it got stagnant a couple of times on the floor without him. Having him back to help us get through something, that’s probably the main thing we take confidence in.

“We knew how to get it done without him, now that he’s back let’s really get it done with him.”

While they are 3-5 after eight games and only 2.5 games behind fourth place, the Snakes will need to make more of their home court to make a run at the post-season, and that must start against the struggling Breakers.

“We want to make sure we put in a good performance in front of our home crowd,” Forde said.

“Right now, when it comes to our home venue, we’re on a two-game losing streak. (It's) spaced over about a month but it’s still a losing streak, so we want to make sure we go in their ready to go.”


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