R17 Preview: New Zealand Breakers vs Brisbane Bullets

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 24 March 2022

Where: Cairns Convention Centre

Broadcast: ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sport NZ

Who won last time?

Brisbane 92 (Franks 23, Cadee 22, Moss 10) d New Zealand 74 (Randle 20, Dieng 17, Delany 12, Siva 12) – Round 14, MyState Bank Arena, Hobart

Jason Cadee put on a show, scoring 12 points in opening four minutes of the third term to turn a nine-point ball-game into a 22-point rout. JC finished with 22 points at 72 per cent, 5/6 from deep 9 assists, 4 steals and a game-high +25. He has plenty of help from Robert Franks, who finished with 23 points at 70 per cent, 10 boards and a pair of dimes.

What happened last start?

Cadee didn’t make it through Sunday’s match-up with Cairns, fouled out in controversial circumstances in the third quarter. He’d just got hot to lead the Bullets from 23 down to within six, but without Cadee or the injured Nathan Sobey the home team couldn’t get over the hump, especially while giving up 98 points, 35 free throws and 22 points from turnovers.

The Breakers had no issues with a slow start in Perth, racking up 34 first-quarter points behind their fast-moving half-court offence. As they tired, however, their cuts and ball movement got stuck in the mud, and their defensive penchant for crowding the three-point line with a donut-like interior was again cruelly exposed by Bryce Cotton and Vic Law.

Who’s in form?

Peyton Siva – At times the past two weeks against Perth, the Breakers’ subtle variations of movement into their Spanish ball-screen action has seemed unstoppable. Much of that has to do with Siva, whose timing using on-balls is exquisite, and pull-up triple against drops is money. He nailed 6/13 from deep and dished 16 dimes to 3 turnovers in those two outings.

Deng Deng – With the Bullets’ centre crew on struggle street, Deng has become hugely important as coach James Duncan looks for ways to be a better defensive unit without being caught in half-court grinds they rarely win. Switching between PF and C, Deng has contributed 25 points at 75 per cent inside and 12 rebounds across the past two games.

Who needs to be?

Tom Abercrombie – It’s been a pleasing offensive return, contributing 24 points at 50 per cent in his first two full games back. However, the legendary Breaker will be looking to improve his trademark rebounding and defensive contributions as he gains fitness, having grabbed just 1 board and gone -22 across 60 minutes, with NZ +10 in the other 20.

Lamar Patterson – Abercrombie’s assignment will either be Patterson or Franks, both of vital importance. LP had 4 assists and 5 turnovers against Cairns, and has coughed the Spalding up a staggering 25 times in five outings. In the past five wins, Patterson has averaged 6.4 dimes to 3.4 cough-ups, while in the past five Ls those numbers are 4.8 to 4.

Who’s statting up?

 - In Bullets wins they average 20.4 assists per game, while in losses that sinks to just 15.2

 - In three games surrounding their win over NZ, Brisbane’s defence has surrendered 96ppg at 49 percent. They have burped the ball up 17 times per night in that stretch and been -32 on points from turnovers

 - Over the past four games, New Zealand are -38 on points in the paint, -70 on two-point scores and have given up 24 free-throw attempts per night. In two contests with Perth they gave up 83ppg on ‘ones and twos’

 - The Breakers have shot 42 per cent from three-point range in the first three quarters of their past two games, but just 28 per cent in final terms

Who’s matching up?

Yanni Wetzell v Robert Franks – This won’t be a direct match-up, but both teams rely on their frontcourt stars to get going offensively. With Finn Delany sidelined – after finding form against Perth – more pressure heaps on Yanni, who has averaged just 12ppg at 45 per cent the past four games, down from 20.3 at 62 per cent the three prior to that.

Franks isn’t having much trouble making shots, his past five games producing 21.8ppg and 8.6rpg, while shooting a sizzling 18/33 from range at 55 per cent. While his stretch game is tough to guard, Brisbane need to get Franks attacking the hoop from post-ups and roll-outs, given he’s taken 14 free throws in the past two Ws, but just 14 in their past five losses.

Who’s talking the talk?

Life is not great for the Brisbane Bullets right now, and star forward Lamar Patterson was lost for words after their third -straight loss to Cairns in NBL22.

“I felt like we had a good week going into the game for the most part, I honestly don’t know, I wish I could give you the answer but I don’t know,” he said.

“It’s probably been a story of our season so far, having a quarter that pretty much loses us the game, it’s happened more than once now ... The slow starts or the bad quarters are the ones that are killing us right now.”

Coach James Duncan is cutting a frustrated figure, and must be sick of trying to implore his team to simply play harder, rather than focusing on the strategic side of the game.

Against Cairns, after Patterson scored the opening basket in four seconds, the Taipans ripped their hosts a new one courtesy of a 32-7 run.

“We emphasised the start of the game repeatedly throughout the course of the week. We emphasised the start of the third quarter throughout the week. We did not respond to the challenge,” Duncan said.

In one of the most embarrassing stretches in memory, the Bullets coughed the ball up nine times in the opening eight minutes, forcing just two themselves while allowing 63 per cent from the field.

“We just gave them the ball,” Duncan said.

“You give a life at the beginning of the game and they build confidence, shots that they might not normally hit they were hitting because we were giving them lay-ups.

“Ultimately they scored 98 points, you're not going to win too many games when you're playing defence like that.”

It leaves a tough job for Duncan and Co, trying to finish a disappointing season strongly.

“There’s still eight more games left in the season and we’re trying to build something here. There’s definitely a culture shift going on right now,” he said.

“In general I’ll just say everybody has an opinion but actions are the truth.”

Things are a bit different in Breaker land, with hope renewed by the recent return of Tom Abercrombie, Yanni Wetzell, Ousmane Dieng and Hugo Besson.

“Internally it kind of feels like we are at the beginning of the season,” coach Dan Shamir said.

“For the last few games we have players that we were missing and it feels like we’re playing better, we’ve got more options on all aspects.

“If somebody doesn’t play well there’s somebody else.”

While plenty of Breakers played well in stretches in two games against Perth, they also had patches where their offence dried up and they were dominated by the Cats.

“We had moments where we played well. This is basketball, you have your runs, one quarter here, one quarter there, it’s about the end result.

“It was a high-tempo game I thought, and Perth is the number one offensive team, they're always good offensively, at least in the beginning we shot the ball well, we moved the ball well, we got open looks.

“Second half, probably missed a few, taking the same types of shots and missed some.”

The problem is New Zealand have not yet found a defensive identity that allows them to withstand offensive droughts.

The gave up 54 per cent shooting against Perth, and last time against Brisbane they leaked 92 points at 55 per cent.

“We played Brisbane a couple of weeks ago, they got us down in Hobart,” Abercrombie said.

“Hopefully we can build on what we’ve been doing these last couple of games, continue to add little things to make ourselves better but being consistent I think is the most important thing, bringing that consistency in effort and intensity, particularly at the defensive end.

“Whilst we did some good things, these guys still scored 90-plus points and we've got to do a better job of holding teams down and hopefully we can pick up in that area against Brissy.”


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