R2 Preview: SE Melbourne Phoenix vs NZ Breakers

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 10 December

John Cain Arena, Melbourne

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won the last time?
SE Melbourne 89 (Munford 27, Creek 19) def New Zealand Breakers 65 (Delany 18, Siva 11, Besson 10, Galloway 10), Round 1, John Cain Arena, Melbourne

The Breakers could barely have experienced a worse lead-up, but they could barely have played worse all the same. After some early shooting woes SE Melbourne were brilliant, moving the ball selflessly and attacking the hoop relentlessly, shooting at a high clip from all over the court and defending with aggression to run NZ out of the gym. Mitch Creek was his usual self and Xavier Munford set a franchise first-game record with 27 points.

Who’s in form?

Xavier Munford – There wasn’t much the X-Man didn’t do on debut, shooting 7-of-12 inside, 4-of-6 outside, grabbing 7 boards, dishing 5 dimes, pinching 3 steals and recording +25 in 25 minutes. He had a nice mix with 14 from jumpshots and 13 at the rim or free-throw line, and was fully bought-in to his team’s defensive schemes that rattled NZ’s guards.

Finn Delany – Given his own high standards, Delany will cringe at being listed as ‘in form’, especially after a scoreless first half that helped the Phoenix take control of the contest. But the flying Finn bounced back strong, scoring 15 points from the paint and foul line and grabbing 9 rebounds. Expect the Breakers’ spiritual leader to fire from tip-off on Friday.

Who needs to be?

Ryan Broekhoff – After a loud pre-season, Rowdy didn’t deliver big numbers on opening night, but he didn’t have to, instead grabbing 4 boards, 3 steals and going +19 in 23 minutes. New Zealand will be better second time around, however, and the Phoenix can’t afford for their sharp-shooter to go 0-of-4 from long range again, leaving him 0-of-9 in his past three NBL games. Expect some early sets for Broekhoff with Creek or Munford as diversions.

New Zealand’s backcourt – Peyton Siva, Jeremiah Martin, William McDowell-White and Hugo Besson had as many turnovers as assists (10), while combining for just 27 points on 7-of-28 shooting. Given outside of Delany the Breakers’ main firepower is in its guard crew, those numbers won’t get it done. Just as critically, they forced the SE Melbourne backcourt into just 4 miscues in total, and a greater hunger for defence is needed on Friday.

Who’s statting up?

 - The Phoenix outscored New Zealand 85-48 from the field, with only a +13 free-throw differential keeping the Kiwis from a hiding of epic proportions

 - SE Melbourne’s frontcourt committed 14 of their team’s 18 fouls, while their Breakers’ counterparts were whistled for just four

 - New Zealand’s starters scored 42 points at 35 per cent from the field and 4-of-19 from outside. The Phoenix first five racked up 63 points at 57 per cent and 7-of-16 from deep

 - The Breakers were -1 in 26 minutes with point guard Peyton Siva on the court, and -23 in the remaining 14 minutes

Who’s matching up?

Dane Pineau v Yanni Wetzell – While Munford deservedly got the headlines, don’t underestimate the importance of Pineau’s five first-half offensive rebounds in grinding down a lethargic NZ, the Phoenix +9 on second chance points in the opening 17 minutes.

Is Wetzell the answer to that issue? He averaged just 3.5 d-boards last season, barely scraping into the NBL’s top 30, so he’ll need to have his box-out game ready against the Great Dane. At the other end, Yanni was sixth in o-boards (2.5) in NBL21 and it’s important he keeps Pineau engaged in what should be an intriguing battle of mobile bigs.

Who’s talking the talk?

How does Wetzell feel about taking on Pineau and his former team?

“It’s a dream scenario,” he told New Zealand media.

“It’s going to be a very special night. I’m sure there will be a lot of banter flying around, but I’m very much looking forward to the match-up with those boys, and the old coaching staff.”

After a brief run-in with COVID, and the challenge of being unable to train while quarantined, Wetzell is determined not to miss this match-up for a second time.

“Dan (Shamir) asked me about my playing availability on Friday. I told him I’m 100 percent ready to go,” Wetzell said.

“In the heart of my isolation I had a little bit of difficulty breathing and some chest pain when I worked out, but since I’ve been back I haven’t noticed any issues or symptoms.

“The conditioning was the only thing that was a bit behind and that’s improved day by day, and as of right now I feel great.”

The Phoenix crew loved Wetzell, but they’re also growing extremely fond of his replacement, Zhou Qi.

“He’s a special kid, his English needs some work but he understands basketball, and you only need to tell him something once and he retains it,” coach Simon Mitchell said.  

“Despite our language barriers, he’s just a loveable character. I don’t know what it is but you see it in his face, it lights up and he lights everybody else up and he plays with an enthusiasm that is quite contagious. His teammates adore him.”

Pineau brings hustle, picks and o-boards, new import Devin Thomas brings power and athleticism, and Qi brings a quality mix that will make the trio quite the test for Wetzell and Co.

“He’s fit, he’s such a high IQ player,” Mitchell said of Qi.

“His rim protection tonight was fantastic, not just him blocking shots but him being present at the rim and guys saying, ‘I don’t want any piece of that’ and turning around and coming out the other side.

“That’s something we’ve sorely missed in our first two seasons, but we have it this year and we cherish it.”

Mitchell was also cherishing the work of new combo guard Munford, daring his new import to be even more dominant in Friday’s rematch.

“He can play, we knew this,” Mitchell said.

“I still felt he could have been a little more aggressive, he shot 63 per cent from the field, and anyone who’s a scorer knows that’s too high, he should have been letting it go a bit more.

“It’s been a process, finding your feet and finding that confidence to really put pressure on defences getting downhill, he’s so quick and he’s going to get better from here, no doubt.”

Mitchell has little doubt the Breakers will be a lot better with coach Shamir and Wetzell back on board and a full week of training under their belts.

“It’s a quality basketball team, with a lot of talent,” he said.

“They’ve been through incredible obstacles to be where they are right now. They’ve got enough talent that on their night they’re going to be tough as hell. We don’t expect any sort of blowout next week when we face them again.”

Shamir has grown used to bouncing back from big losses and difficult circumstances in his time as a Breaker, and after a difficult time overcoming COVID, he is back to his pragmatic best.

“It’s a setback,” he said of his team’s Round 1 shellacking.

“At the same time as coaches we have to think about what’s in our control and what we can and should do. We’re going to have a list of things that we need to do better this week and we’ll get right back at it.”


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