R14 Preview: NZ Breakers v Brisbane Bullets

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Monday 7 March 2022

Where: MyState Bank Arena, Hobart

Broadcast: ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sport NZ

Who won last time?

New Zealand 88 (Wetzell 27, Besson 12, Siva 11) d Brisbane 83 (Patterson 17, Drmic 14, Sobey 14) – Round 6, Nissan Arena, Brisbane

Brisbane were sloppy coming off their COVID break, allowing the Breakers to break their NBL22 hoodoo with a win. Yanni Wetzell was the difference-maker with 15 points in the opening 15 minutes as NZ streaked ahead. The Breakers lead reached 17 in the third term, and while Nathan Sobey and Lamar Patterson led a revival, the damage had been done.

What happened last start?

There was no Wetzell on Saturday in Launceston, nor Will McDowell-White, Tom Abercrombie or Hugo Besson and it showed. NZ went toe-to-toe with the JackJumpers but, in a dour affair, simply couldn’t score through fatigue late. The form of Chasson Randle, Ousmane Dieng and Rob Loe, and the return of Abercrombie, should give hope for Monday.

It was probably only sloppiness that cost the undermanned Bullets a huge upset win in Melbourne, their hosts scoring 43 points in the final 13:30 on the back of nine Brisbane turnovers. Apart from that, an already skinny squad missing Sobey and Anthony Drmic produced some excellent basketball as a number of their young stars stood tall.

Who’s in form?

Deng Deng – One of those was Deng, who has provided enormous energy of late. His past two games have shown up on the boxscore, with 21 points at 60 per cent and 3/5 from deep, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 47 minutes, and over the past eight games Brisbane are +19 with their reserve PF on the floor, and -52 the rest of the time.

Ousmane Dieng – Before injury, Dieng had a coming out party in Sydney with 14 points on 4/8 triples and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes. Fast forward four weeks and the teenager picked up where he left off with 17 points and 9 boards, this time doing his damage close to the basket. The Bullets have a huge challenge keeping up with him in the open floor.

Who needs to be?

Lamar Patterson – While Patterson will need help on the Frenchman in transition, in the half-court this is the mother of all mismatches, Lamar with an 18kg advantage. Will NZ put Dieng to Robert Franks and Finn Delany to Patterson? Or will Abercrombie come straight into the starting line-up, allowing ‘Ousy’ to match Deng and Tom Digbeu off the bench?

Peyton Siva – It’s almost unfathomable that the Breakers got within four points of Tasmania with Siva shooting a staggering 0/13 from the field and 0/9 from deep on the unfriendly Launy rims. That won’t happen again, and the reality is Peyton dished 9 dimes, pinched 2 steals and had just 2 turnovers, New Zealand +4 in his 34:38 and -8 in the other 5:22.

Who’s statting up?

 - The Bullets coughed up 21 turnovers to Melbourne and were outscored 27-14 on points from turnovers. In their Round 6 loss to New Zealand they burped the ball up 20 times and were outscored 24-7

 - The Breakers scored 9 points on 3/17 shooting in the final quarter against Tassie, including 1 point on 0/8 in the final 4:40. NZ won their final quarter in the blow-out loss to United, but in four games surrounding that are -21 in the final 10 minutes, averaging just 14.5 points

 - In Brisbane’s past six losses, Robert Franks has averaged just 4.2 defensive rebounds. In six Bullets victories, he has reeled in 8 d-boards per game

 - Over the first 11 games of the season, Finn Delany averaged 6.4 rebounds. Over the past five games he’s averaged just 4rpg, with only 1 solitary o-board in that time

Who’s matching up?

Finn Delany v Robert Franks – This just hasn’t been Delany’s season. Asked to carry a huge load given the Breakers’ lack of frontcourt depth and injury woes, he’s seldom been at his best. One blessing ahead of his battle with Franks – and likely Patterson at times – is foul trouble restricted him to just 23 minutes on Saturday, leaving fresh legs to rebound and run.

To do that he’ll need to be in Franks’ grill before sprinting to the d-boards, as Brisbane’s versatile import has taken the NBL’s most catch-and-shoot attempts, and has nailed 7/15 from deep in the past two games while averaging 21.5ppg. It’s on the glass where he most seems to help the Bullets succeed though, and that’s the battle Delany must win.

Who’s talking the talk?

There hasn’t been a lot of cheer for the Breakers and Bullets this season, with a 10-23 record, but a taste of Europe in Round 14 has given them reason to smile.

As Brisbane took on defending champs and ladder leaders Melbourne, one man who stood tall – and flew high – was Spanish Next Star Tom Digbeu.

“Tom’s been, the last week-and-a-half or so, working really hard at practice and trying to get playing time,” coach James Duncan said.

“He was able to get an opportunity and he grabbed the opportunity and played really well for us. So now the challenge for him is to continue to.

“We head out to the Breakers so he has to repeat that performance, and going forward into next week he has to repeat the performances he had in practice, and continue to do that day in, day out.

“That’s coming to work, playing hard, getting in the weight room and doing all those things. He's a young man who is still learning the game and trying to be a professional basketball player, and that’s what we’re helping him to do.”

Digbeu finished with 11 points at 50 per cent, 3 rebounds and the Bullets were +2 against the champs in his 23:30, compared to -14 the rest of the way.

He also flushed one of the dunks of the season on the mountainous Ariel Hukporti, highlighting just how high his proverbial ceiling is.

Tom wasn’t the only European Next Star turning heads.

In Launceston, Ousmane Dieng pieced together all the little bits of potential he’s shown in NBL22 in one night to almost lead the Breakers to victory.

“Ousmane definitely started the game extremely well,” coach Dan Shamir said.

“When he does that it’s really fun to watch him play. He had a little setback with an injury but he’s been doing that for quite some time (at practice).”

The Frenchman finished with 17 points – 14 from the paint or free-throw line – 9 rebounds and 3 assists in a performance that would have made NBA scouts sit up and take notice.

“I knew we have a lot of injured players, so I knew I would have some more responsibility, so I tried my best to help the team,” Dieng said.

“I'm working a lot in practice and I'm getting used to the NBL, so it’s a good thing.”

There’s a young Australian gun also turning heads, giving more good news for Breakers fans who have watched Kyrin Galloway grow in recent weeks.

“On the personal level, everybody including me really loves Kyrin,” coach Shamir said.

“Great teammate, great person, great worker and he does these things here and there that make you just hold your head – a nice dunk, blocks, capable shooter, runs the floor, cuts well, does all these things.

“I'm always on him to push him on the mistakes and little things he can do better, but sometimes you can really see how great he can be.”

The question is how great youngsters like Galloway and Dieng can be in the second game in three nights, especially given the grinding nature of the clash with the JackJumpers.

“From a physical standpoint that’s what matters right now, we’re playing in 48 hours,” Shamir said.

“(I) never planned on playing Peyton 35 minutes a game every game, but all the rest is not too bad, we kept it around 30 minutes and some under 30 minutes, so we’ll have to recover and put together from a physical standpoint a good game.

“I like the double-headers moving forward, especially after losses, move on and try to win the next game, that’s what we’ll do.”

For Brisbane, if there is any slim chance remaining of making the playoffs, the run must start with a win over the last-placed Breakers, and for coach Duncan it’s the same message of consistency after coming close to knocking off the champs.

“We were up one at half-time, we were down six with about five minutes left in the game, so we were doing a lot of right things,” he said.

“What we were obviously worried about was our transition D, they had 31 points in that area, taking care of the ball, we had 21 turnovers, it’s hard to win a basketball game (with that), especially on the road against the champs.

“Obviously we've got to clean up that area. Just a little bit frustrating because we played some good basketball but we weren’t able to execute for continuous stretches throughout the game and that hurt us.”


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