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R13 Preview: Brisbane Bullets v New Zealand Breakers

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 27 December

Where: Nissan Arena, Brisbane

Broadcast: ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand

The last time

New Zealand 96 (Webster 23, Abercrombie 19, Delany 14, Hopson 14) d Brisbane 85 (Patterson 36, Cadee 11, Hodgson 10), Round 10, Spark Arena, Auckland


This game was a defensive debacle for the Bullets, who conceded 57 per cent shooting inside, 42 per cent outside and 32 free throws. Finn Delany, Brandon Ashley, Corey Webster and Tom Abercrombie combined for 29 points in nine minutes in a 34-19 run bridging quarter-time that changed the game, and while Brisbane briefly got their noses back in front in the third term, 12 final-quarter points from Scotty Hopson put the result beyond doubt and negated one of the performance of the season from Lamar Patterson.


The now

Is it too early to say the loser of this seventh v eighth clash can’t make the playoffs? Probably, but it will certainly make the task difficult. This is the second in a five-game road trip for the Breakers, which is followed by home dates against Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, then the NBL’s longest journey to Perth. So while last week’s back-to-back wins put Dan Shamir’s men within 1.5 games of fourth spot, and their next five games are against teams outside the top three, there is precious little room for error.


The Bullets also gave their fading season a serious boost last week by convincingly curtailing the Kings, showing their strong defensive performance in Perth seven days earlier wasn’t a flash in the pan. Brisbane face NZ followed by a quick dash to Melbourne, then a trip to Cairns and a home date with the Wildcats in the next nine days. Given at least two wins are needed to stay in touch with fourth, and the Bullets have only reached 100 points twice this season, that defence will need to be Scrooge-like this Christmas.


The stats

- The Bullets have scored 92ppg in wins and a similar 88ppg in losses. However, they have held teams to 82.4ppg in wins compared to 100ppg in defeat


- Brisbane are 2-6 against the NBL’s four highest-scoring teams, compared to 5-3 against the rest. New Zealand currently rank sixth in scoring at 90ppg


- The Breakers lost points in the paint, second chance points, points from turnovers and bench points last time against Brisbane, but were +12 from the foul line and +9 on fast break points


- New Zealand won their first game of 2019 in Australia, but have gone 2-11 on the road since, with their only wins being in Wollongong


The match-ups

Lamar Patterson v Tom Abercrombie – As the Breakers’ defensive Mr Fix It, Abercrombie has often been used on dangerous opposition guards, but with Brisbane lacking dominant backcourt scorers, expect him to go straight to Patterson. While he was surprisingly brought off the bench against NZ in Round 10, it didn’t bother Lamarvellous, who almost single-handedly kept Brisbane in the game with 36 points – 24 of which came at the hoop or the free-throw line – and 6 dimes to contribute to 60 per cent of his team’s scores.


Taylor Braun v Scotty Hopson – Much like Abercrombie, the versatile Braun has been used regularly on the opposition’s best scorer, and with Corey Webster now in China that is undoubtedly Hopson for the Breakers. Hop had 14 points in his return game against Brisbane three weeks ago, but his past two outings have returned 22.5ppg at 60 per cent, 8 rebounds and 4 assists, along with a game-winner, to show his immense quality.



The quotes

It was Greg Chappell who once infamously said he was batting well but just not making runs, and Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis took a similar route recently to explain his team’s woes.


“As you go through (the video) you start to say actually we’re getting a lot of open looks, our offence is producing the shots that we need and at some point you’ve just got to knock them down,” he said.


That was after their loss to the Breakers in Auckland, where Lemanis’ men shot a woeful 6-of-25 from long range to slump to their sixth double-figure loss for the season.


Yet while the Bullets were indeed in a shooting slump, their issues ran much deeper than that, as shown by New Zealand running up 49 points after half-time when a desperate Brisbane defence should have been locking down.


“With our switching defences I thought we had some confusion at times and gave up some looks,” Lemanis said.


“The other one is obviously finding a way to keep them off the foul line, they had 32 free throws to our 19, that’s almost double, so find a way to keep them in front and not get those cheapies.”


That defeat marked five losses from seven games for Brisbane, and in that stretch they were leaking 99.7ppg.


They would add to that with another L in Perth five days later, but finally there were signs of defensive resistance as they held the Wildcats to 86 points at 40 per cent.


Then the wheel turned fully with a superb shutdown of Sydney, allowing just 80 points at 40 per cent to give their supporters hope that NBL20 wouldn’t be a wasted season.


“When we got 12 down tonight I felt that belief was still there,” Lemanis said.


“The team is still unified and tight and that’s a nice part of it, and I felt we’ve really built in that area over the past couple of weeks as well.


“It was nice that we were able to rally behind our defence, we kept them to 16 in that second quarter which enabled us to work our way back into the game.”


That ability to prevent penetration forced contested shots and allowed the Bullets to grab 86 per cent of defensive boards, which in turn meant they were flowing into offence and creating more rhythm shots, which they knocked down.


“I thought we did a nice job, everybody came and swooped on the defensive boards and we played a way that gave us a chance to win,” Lemanis said.


“We shot the three at 44 per cent tonight, they shot it at 23 per cent, you know? That was nice for us to make some shots and have an opposition side miss some shots.”


When it came deterring penetration, cleaning the glass and hitting shots, no one did all three better than Will Magnay, the rising star taking a quantum leap into another stratosphere with his 23-point, 14-rebound, 3-triple, 2-block performance.


“Will’s rim protection is a difference maker and he’s a significant asset to our group, he did a nice job, they tried to go at him, Bogues did a couple of times, and I thought Will did a nice job of accepting that challenge,” Lemanis said.


The Breakers are suddenly a team with belief, having won three of four contests since Hopson’s return. While that has them back in the post-season picture, coach Dan Shamir isn’t interested just yet.


“I’m not looking too much at our situation or the other teams, it doesn’t help me ever,” he said.


“It doesn’t matter which place we are in, I just like to prepare the two, three or four things for the next game and do what the team needs right now.


“I believe these are the kind of things that take care of business and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”


But in-form guard Sek Henry knows what the score is, with his team’s 1-6 road record the worst in the league and their next four games on Australian soil.


“We know that we’re better than our record and now we’re trying to show that. The first thing to do is to win on the road,” he said.


“We got our first win on the road and we need to continue because we’ve got more road games coming up, so for us to achieve and to go further we have to win on the road.”



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