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R18 Preview: Adelaide v New Zealand

Who: Adelaide 36ers v New Zealand Breakers When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Wednesday 3 February Where: Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Adelaide 87 (Johnson 25, Randle 25) d New Zealand 81 (Cedric Jackson 16, Wesley 14, Abercrombie 13, Vukona 13), Round 14, North Shore Events Centre, Auckland THE MATCH-UP Daniel Johnson v Alex Pledger and Charles Jackson – After making 10-of-14 triples in a four-game stretch, Johnson has made just 3-of-15 in his past five. With Pledger and Jackson combining for 13.6 boards per game, Adelaide need DJ on target to drag them away from the glass. THE STATS In his past 10 games against the Breakers, Johnson has averaged 19.2 points and 8.6 rebounds. Against other opponents in that time he averaged 16.5 and 7.7. In their four championship seasons the Breakers’ combined road record was 44-20. In 2013/14 and this year it is 6-20. THE STORY Adelaide have a big job ahead of them with Jerome Randle sidelined for a fortnight, but for Daniel Johnson there couldn’t been a better first-up opponent without their superstar guard. After struggling against New Zealand in his early years, DJ has recently given nightmares to a frontcourt that prides itself on being the NBL’s toughest. “I guess you use your strengths and weaknesses against certain people,” he said. “They obviously play better against bigger, stronger guys because that’s what they're used to. I’m the complete opposite of that so I guess it’s just contrasting styles.” In Adelaide’s two wins over the Breakers this season Johnson has hit 4-of-5 from long range, but he was 0-of-4 in their Round 5 defeat. In that game, Charles Jackson and Alex Pledger combined for 23 points and 17 rebounds as they dominated the paint. Johnson has long been the fastest centre in the NBL, but Jackson matches him in that department while also being an energetic beast around the rim. “I always have to prepare myself pretty heavily for those guys knowing I’m going to have to guard them too, but I guess I do that by trying to get them in foul trouble by running them around a bit,” Johnson said. “Pledger’s playing pretty well at the moment and he’s a big body, so it’s two different guys I’ve got to worry about.” Yet while Johnson would much prefer to have Randle in the line-up, he is fully confident Adam Gibson and Nathan Sobey will find him in the right spots to exploit his mismatch on Wednesday. “Gibbo’s obviously going to step up and play the point guard for us, and he’s more than capable of doing that so we’re not worried about that,” he said frankly. “I think Sobey over the past few weeks has shown he’s more than ready to play a few more minutes and contribute well.” And he’s not buying into New Zealand’s form slump one bit. “Not really. Everyone knows they’ve been the form team of the last five years and they won’t go down without a fight,” he said. “We’re expecting them to come out pretty hard and be a different team to what they have been over the last few weeks.” THE WRAP The mathematics for this one are simple. If Adelaide win they make their third straight playoff appearance and kill off the Breakers’ title defence. Lose and the defending champs close to within one game of the 36ers with both teams to face Cairns later in the round. Should New Zealand win by more than 15 they can claim the season series and really put the heat on for fourth place. The Breakers have only beaten the bottom two teams on the road so far, but with Tom Abercrombie scoring 45 points in his past two games and Cedric Jackson contributing 35 points, 10 assists and nine boards, they are perhaps just a Corey Webster revival away from a big win. In Johnson, Gibson, Anthony Petrie, Lucas Walker, Mitch Creek, Brendan Teys, Sobey and the on-fire Ebi Ere, the 36ers have the weapons to continue their charge, the question is can the improved defence without the pint-sized Randle generate enough points to cover for his incredible offence?
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