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R17 Preview: New Zealand v Townsville

Who: New Zealand Breakers v Townsville Crocodiles When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Friday 29 January Where: Vector Arena, Auckland Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Townsville 89 (Steindl 23, Samhan 16, Norton 14) d New Zealand 66 (Wesley 13, Cedric Jackson 12, Webster 11), Round 16, Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre THE MATCH-UP Clint Steindl v Tom Abercrombie – Steindl got rolling with the undersized Corey Webster guarding him last round and didn’t stop until he’d posted 23 points at 62 per cent. Abercrombie went scoreless that night, but after a late-night shoot-around he bounced back with 23 points against the Taipans two nights later. Expect this pair to go head-to-head from tip-off on Friday. THE STATS Abercrombie averages 8.2 rebounds and shoots 40 per cent from three-point land in wins, compared to 4.6 boards and 30 per cent in defeat. The Crocs’ record is 6-4 when Steindl scores 14 points or more and 3-11 when he doesn’t. Steindl averages 9.9ppg away from The Swamp and hasn’t reached 14 points on the road since Round 3. THE STORY The first question put to New Zealand assistant coach Paul Henare was, ‘What would your answer be if a long-term supporter asked which Breakers team would show up to face Townsville this Friday?’. Before he responded Henare winced, showing how much his team’s recent inconsistent performances have pained the first Breaker to have his jersey retired. “I hope the team that we know,” he said. “We still have faith that we can produce some quality basketball but obviously the sense of urgency is heightened now with where we’re at.” The Breakers were embarrassed in Townsville last round, capping a run of three losses by more than 15 points in seven games, after suffering just four such defeats in their previous 53 outings. “The Crocs game was disgusting, it wasn’t pretty and we had a good honest talk about that afterwards,” he said. “For whatever reason there’s a major drop-off, it’s not like it’s a minor drop-off and you grind your way through and come up short. “We’ve seen a couple of those performances recently at Hawks and at Townsville that are just well below our standards, which is the frustrating part of it.” Henare acknowledged their experiment with match-ups had not paid dividends against the Crocs, with Clint Steindl too long and slippery for Corey Webster and an aggressive Mitch Norton able to exploit Cedric Jackson’s roaming defence. Tom Abercrombie was able to lock down Jordair Jett at times, but overall Townsville’s guards made what the league’s best defence for much of the season look like a carousal. “That was really disappointing, the amount of just blow-bys that we gave up. Mitch Norton had 14 points and a couple of just straight rips to the rim, and Maynard came in and got a couple,” Henare said. ”Steindl got off and got a couple of clean looks, and possibly more than anyone else if he gets going he’s more than capable of stringing a few more together. “We’ll make some adjustments and changes with those match-ups and how we defend those guys. “If we can lock in and get down and dirty with our defence we can create some opportunities at the offensive end as well.” THE WRAP Last round, Norton and Jett outplayed New Zealand’s guards, Steindl dominated the wings and Omar Samhan was a force inside with a double-double, but the Breakers will be a different unit at Vector Arena. Townsville outscored their visitors 71-48 on ones and twos in that game, New Zealand’s defence only forcing the Crocs into 15 outside shots, something that will change if Cedric Jackson and Corey Webster bring energy to the defensive end. Offensively the Breakers broke out of a slump in Cairns, scoring 87 points at 50 per cent despite another off night for Webster, with Cedric Jackson and Abercrombie once again resembling their usual selves and Alex Pledger an immovable force inside early on. One more loss will see the defending champs effectively giving up that mantle early, while a Crocs win will secure season series wins over New Zealand and Perth – holders of the past six championships – so expect both teams to bring the intensity.
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