R13 Preview: New Zealand Breakers vs Illawarra Hawks

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Tuesday 1 March 2022

Where: MyState Bank Arena, Hobart

Broadcast: ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sport NZ

Who won last time?

New Zealand 90 (Wetzell 22, Siva 14, Martin 12, McDowell-White 12) d Illawarra 67 (Harvey 17, Cleveland 16, Jessup 10, Reath 10) – Round 10, MyState Bank Arena, Hobart

If New Zealand’s sorry season ended today, the most memorable moment would be their 23-point Round 10 demolition of the Hawks in Hobart. The Kiwis attacked from tip-off, the tentative Hawks with no answer to their ball movement and pick-and-roll game, Yanni Wetzell in particular devastating. On defence, NZ were physical and ran hard off their stops.

What happened last start?

The less said about the Breakers’ last start, the better, humbled 108-73 by United after trailing by 27 at half-time. Sometimes a quick turnaround from tough losses is best, but nine days to prepare is a blessing for Chasson Randle and Co with a flurry of games approaching. Three of their four Ws have come after double-figure losses, so Breakers fans will hold hope.

Illawarra supporters would have felt relief last Friday against Adelaide as the aggressive D that delivered their team to the NBL21 playoffs returned. The Hawks won points from turnovers 15-0 and scored 12 fourth-quarter points in the first half of the shot clock. While they lapsed in the third term, they won the other three periods 75-51 in a dominant display.

Who’s in form?

Peyton Siva – In last week’s Melbourne Park train wreck, Siva kept his cool and delivered 17 points at 50 per cent and five of his team’s 12 assists. His past two games have produced 39 points on 39 per cent three-point shooting, and with Wetzell and Will McDowell-White out, his ability to exploit Illawarra’s D with penetration and pass to shooters will be pivotal.

Antonius Cleveland – The Hawks have won three of their past four to stay in touch, and AC has been a huge part of that, averaging 14.8 points at 50 per cent, 6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. Cleveland had 16 points, 5 boards and 3 steals last time against the Hawks, and his most important job Tuesday might be disrupting Siva with his length.

Who needs to be?

Sam Froling – One of the highest-IQ big men in the NBL, when Froling’s doing the little things well his team benefits. In the Hawks past five wins he’s averaged 9.4 rebound, 4 o-boards, 1.8 assists and 1.4 blocks. In the past five losses that’s just 5.4 rebounds, 2.4 o-boards, 0.8 dimes and 0.6 swats. Where there is no rhyme or reason is his shot attempts – which range from 2-to-17 this season – but with Wetzell sidelined he needs a steady supply.

Kyrin Galloway & Sam Timmins – If there’s been one NBL22 positive for New Zealand it’s been Wetzell, so with a back complaint ruling him out, Galloway and Timmins must shoulder a big load. The athletic Galloway had three massive blocks last time against Illawarra to spark the Breakers’ match-winning run, and if NZ are to run Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup off the arc, they’ll need more of the same in bigger doses this time around.


Who’s statting up?

 - In Hawks’ wins, they are +128 with Sam Froling on court and -24 with him on the bench. Overall, Froling has the largest on/off differential in the league (22.9 points per 40 minutes), ahead of Bryce Cotton (20.4), Caleb Agada (18.6) and Xavier Cooks (17.2)  

 - Since their Round 10 win over Illawarra, the Breakers outscored Cairns 55-35 in the opening half, but have been thrashed 240-167 in their other five halves of basketball, an average of 29.2 points per 40 minutes

 - New Zealand have a big hole to fill at the centre position, in their four wins Yanni Wetzell has averaged 20.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game

 - The Breakers were +8 in the possession game and +9 in possession points (second chance points + points from turnovers) in their win over the Hawks. In four NZ victories they are +33 on possession points, compared to -129 in 10 losses

Who’s matching up?

Duop Reath v Finn Delany – Reath was dangerous early last time against NZ with 6 points in the opening three minutes, but as New Zealand’s defence upped the physicality, so dropped his supply. That was during a patch where Duop’s effort was driven by his offence, but the past four games he’s averaged 8 rebounds, 3 o-boards and 2.3 blocks to be effective regardless of getting or making shots. He’s also hit 18.4ppg on 9/20 from deep in that run.

Delany wasn’t the offensive focus in Round 10 as Wetzell dominated, but he made a huge contribution, pulling in a clear game-high 12 defensive boards – twice as many as the next best player – which the Breakers converted into 18 points going the other way. It hasn’t been a great season for the Flying Finn, but if he can limit Reath’s touches, get a hand on his jumper, then clean the defensive glass and spark transition, the Breakers are a chance.

Who’s talking the talk?

Star Breakers import Peyton Siva was up-front about his team’s inconsistency this season.

“We've got to keep on building and try to put some games together. It’s been win one game, lose one game, win a game, lose a game and we've got to do a better job of putting multiple games together,” he said.

“I don’t really know (why), to be honest, some games we look like we can compete for the top spot, some games we look like where we’re at.

“We have to do a better job, everybody, we have to get healthy, we have to find ways to enjoy playing with each other on the court, and continue to share the ball and be a team.”

With the challenge of living away from home all season and never having a home crowd to feed off, it seems when the Breakers build their own momentum early in a game they can be very dangerous, but when things go bad, the well is empty when it comes to digging deep.

For different reasons, consistency is a challenge the Illawarra Hawks are still trying to master too, their 2022 results reading W-L-L-W-W-L-L-W-W-L-W.

Much has been made of the Hawks’ defensive struggles, with a group coach Brian Goorjian has said lacks natural defenders.

But against Adelaide, the Boomers boss deployed a nine-deep rotation and watched his team run the 36ers out of town, having previously deployed Einstein’s definition of madness by constantly leaning on a rotation of six that was being outplayed.

Isaac White was let loose from the ‘doghouse’ and provided a huge spark at both ends of the floor to finish with 14 points, 7 rebounds and +11 in 14 minutes.

“I've been doing more evaluating of myself,” Goorjian said.

“I know a lot of coaches are coming in now and being hard on the effort on the defensive end, but really I know this team’s giving it their all, they're doing what I'm saying.

“So the performance right now, I'm always looking at the ‘why’ of what we’re doing, and the ‘why’ right now is me.

“Get the scout right, do a better job with our rotations, get the right line-ups on, because these guys are doing the right thing.

“The situation now falls in my lap. They're in, and tonight they came out ready to play, (Adelaide) socked us in the face in the third quarter, we fought back and won. Excited about what’s coming up.”

While it’s taken time to trust his bench group – and Emmett Naar and AJ Ogilvy are still waiting in the wings for their chance – he’s been won over by their outstanding work ethic despite getting much serious burn on game night.

“During this process we've had a lot of negative, a lot of things haven't gone our way, we haven't played as well as we should have at times and it’s cost us, but from my standpoint it’s a great opportunity to evaluate everyone in the organisation during this time,” Goorjian said.

“I've learned a lot about my team. There’s been no finger pointing, there’s been hard work, the guys that haven't been playing are grinding, like Isaac, trying to get in there and make us better every day.

“Our captain AJ, who hasn’t played at all over the last six or seven games, gives it everything at practice, is leading from the front, so I really think down the back stretch that kind of personality in the team gives us a chance.”

New Zealand coach Dan Shamir believes his team is a chance too, adamant they are better than what they showed in Melbourne, but it’s going to be a tough ask Tuesday without Tom Abercrombie, McDowell-White, Ousmane Dieng, Rob Loe and the impressive Wetzell.

For Shamir, it’s been about using the nine-day break to find a consistent identity and executing it through good and bad.

“At this point of the season, we don’t reinvent the wheel,” he said.

“We have five games in 12 days, so it’s coming, we’re going to use these days to respond and to take care of what you can take care of.

“It’s the point of the season where you need to be a bit more of a final product and a bit more consistent.”


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