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R2 Preview: Illawarra v New Zealand

The Illawarra Hawks play in front of a hometown crowd for the first time this season, as they host the New Zealand Breakers on Wednesday night at the WIN Entertainment Centre. Both teams had games to forget in their first round, and will be hungry for a victory.  The Hawks dropped games in Cairns and Melbourne, while the Breakers lost to the Adelaide 36ers by 19 before only squeezing a win against the Townsville Crocodiles in Auckland. To add to the tension in this match, New Zealand’s all-time leading scorer Kirk Penney is facing his former club for the first time. Penny was the NBL MVP while playing for the Breakers in 2009 and led the the NBL in scoring in the last three seasons he played leading up to their historic first NBL Championship in 2011. Penny’s shooting radar has not quite been locked in this season. Even though he is averaging a healthy 15 points per game, shooting at 11-from-30 field goals is not the usual high percentage we are used to seeing from him. With total respect to Mika Vukona and Paul Henare, if you wanted to to rank the two best players in Breakers history, you would struggle to go past Penney as one and Cedric Jackson as the other. Jackson celebrates his 100th NBL game in this match and his exploits are already historic. Three Championships from his first three seasons is already well documented and his winning percentage is the best in the NBL. This is the first time the two all-time greats from the New Zealand franchise have been on the same NBL court at the same time. There is still quality all over the court with AJ Ogilvy continuing off where he left off in 2014 with a massive 20-point, 15 rebound count against Melbourne. That was one board short of a career high that he set when he led the League in rebounding last time he played. New import Charles Jackson will have his hands full with Ogilvy but he is improving each match. Everard Bartlett is also continuing to prove that he belongs in the NBL, with a new career-high 19 points against Townsville on Sunday. Both teams missed crucial players last Sunday with injuries to Kevin Lisch (Hawks) and Mika Vukona (Breakers). The return of either in this match will help tilt favouritism towards their club. Last season, both games that were played in Wollongong between these teams were decided by  two points and tonight should fare in a similar result.   BY THE NUMBERS

Head-to-head: 42 games played

Illawarra Hawks: 22 wins.

New Zealand Breakers: 20 wins

At Wollongong EC: 21 games played.

Illawarra Hawks: 13 wins

?New Zealand Breakers: 8 wins

2014/15 at Wollongong:

?Round 3) Breakers by 2

Round 14) Breakers by 2

FAST FACTS

2015 CHAMPIONS VS 2015 WOODEN SPOON - The Breakers defeated the Hawks in al  four games last year but it was not as easy as that. Twice the margin was just two points in the games played, in Round 3: 79-77 and Round 4: 86-84. Another game in Auckland was decided in overtime.

New Zealand have won 12 of their past 13 games against the Illawarra line-up.

If the Hawks lose this one, it will be their worst start to a season since they dropped the first four games in 2008.

SICK DAY - The last time the Breakers came to Wollongong it was a very unusual day for the visitors. Coach Dean Vickerman was so sick in his hotel room that he could not attend the game and assistant coach Paul Henare took the reigns. Of course, Henare is no stranger to the prime position as head coach of the New Zealand Tall Blacks.

PRESSURE’S ON - Coach Rob Beveridge has not lost the first three games of a season since he was with the Sydney Spirit in 2009.

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