R4 Preview: Cairns Taipans vs New Zealand Breakers

When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Saturday 6 February

Cairns Pop-up Arena

SBS Viceland; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch

The last time
Cairns 85 (Machado 29, Newbill 20, Oliver 14) d New Zealand 79 (Loe 24, Hopson 18, Abercrombie 16), Round 15, 2019/20, Cairns Convention Centre

The Breakers entered this contest riding a five-game win streak where they averaged 94.4ppg. But Cairns turned the defensive screws, allowing just 46 points from ones and twos while also forcing 18 turnovers. At the other end, NZ tried to turn Scott Machado into a scorer and he obliged, nailing 29 points on 8-of-12 from two-point range, while DJ Newbill scored 20 on 9-of-12 from inside to expose the Kiwis’ lack of rim protection.

The now
Things couldn’t have flipped much more for the Taipans, who are giving up 68 points from ones and twos – only the Phoenix allow more – while scoring just 49.3 themselves as they’ve falled into a long-range trap. Obviously the absence of Newbill has impacted their ability to defend penetration and get to the rim themselves, yet while their 1-5 record seems bad, they started last season 1-4 before turning that season into a memorable one.

New Zealand opened NBL20 with a 2-8 record yet almost snuck into the playoffs, so they won’t panic after dropping their opening two in Adelaide, although the regression from game one to the rematch wasn’t ideal. The Breakers undoubtedly need games to gain match fitness, but perhaps their COVID-enforced 11-day break was a good opportunity for Lamar Patterson to improve his conditioning so he can start forcing opponents into rotations.

The stats
 - Cairns and the Breakers rank equal first for three-point makes (12 per game), top two for attempts (36.2 and 37), but sit 6th and 7th respectively for conversion (33% and 32%)

 - These two teams rank equal last for points from two-point baskets (39 points per game). The rest of the Hungry Jack’s NBL are averaging 49.5ppg from inside the arc

 - The Taipans rank 8th for free-throw makes and 9th for attempts (10.3-of-14.7), while New Zealand rank 9th and 8th in those two categories (9.5-of-15)

 - Cairns rank 8th and 9th in offensive and defensive rating (108.3 and 118.3) while the Breakers sit 9th and 5th (102.8 and 110.7) on O and D respectively

The key men
Cam Oliver – Space Cam had 18 points in the first half in Brisbane as he and Scott Machado exploited the pick-and-roll to perfection to set up a 15-point lead at interval. Over the final 25 minutes of the contest he had just one basket, a three-pointer in the Snakes’ 11-4 run to end the third. Outside of that spurt, Cairns were outscored 61-37 after the break, showing Oliver needs to find ways to get involved even when he and Machado are targeted by the D.

Tai Webster – Of course Webster is a key man, but his ability to target Machado’s D is particularly important. Machado’s efficiency has dropped (from 45% and 40% from field and three last season to 40 and 35 this year), due to picking up the slack left by Newbill. Can the Taipans find someone else capable of defending Tai – who is averaging 24.5ppg at 49 per cent and 6.5apg – or will this be another big test of Machado’s veteran legs?

The quotes
His team’s slow start isn’t exactly new ground for Breakers boss Dan Shamir.

“I've been in this situation before where it takes a little bit of time,” he said.

“I didn’t expect to be like that in the first game and second game, it’s the combination of a lot of factors, it’s physical shape, it’s game shape and learning to play with each other.

“No excuses, we prepared as much as we could, we had a long time, I don’t think that’s an excuse to play so disconnected at times.

“We’re all in this situation and we need to find a way out of it ASAP.”

New Zealand’s Round 3 loss to the 36ers was a bit of a head-scratcher for Shamir, his team’s performance well off the pace of their rusty season opener, leaving him searching for answers.

“The decisions on the court, what I do in the game I need to review, I need to look at what I did,” he said.

“I didn’t think we rushed it, we tried to catch our flow, we've got very specific actions we run – it didn’t work. Again credit to some of our opponents’ coverages but I think we’re better than what we showed.”

In reality, Shamir’s system needs penetrators, and with Lamar Patterson far from his best game shape, the Breakers are playing a lot of east-west action that results in three-point heaves, which aren’t dropping.

Their offensive game will evolve rapidly once Patterson can get back to attacking the paint and finding open teammates, but that seems a way off right now.

“I believe in our team and I believe in Lamar,” Shamir said.

“He is a major part of our team, turning it around, I'm used to the process of getting teams to play together, finding everybody the looks that they need, understanding how to play with each other, I’m used to that process.

“Obviously, we’re not there, I'm not here to point a finger at him, I'm sure he’s disappointed as we all are, but we all have to put in the work and figure out what’s going on.”

The good news for New Zealand is Saturday night’s opponent is going through a similar process.

“We've got to finish the game off,” Taipans floor general Machado said after his team’s third narrow loss.

“We hit some open ones, we stayed in the game, we kept fighting through, we've got to close the game out and move forward.”

For coach Mike Kelly, it’s a case of role players making plays when opposition teams shut down their star import duo.

“I think you take the goods and say let’s keep going with that and improve on the things that they exploited in the second half,” he said.

“They pressured us some, they went after Scott, we got some really good looks that we didn’t knock down, and then they got free a few times on the defensive end.

“Our guys played well and played with heart and Brisbane came through and made some big shots.”

Yet while many are questioning Cairns’ supporting cast, now that there are just two gun imports leading the way, Machado is keeping the faith.

“I expect a lot from all of them, all of them have aspirations to be great players, all of them have the same hopes that I have, and they all pick me up little by little,” he said.

“I put us out there to be one of the best teams in this league and I still believe that, so the guys are behind me, supporting me and even pushing me ahead.

“We’re all here together and they're going to continue to have my back.”


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