R7 Preview: Sydney Kings vs NZ Breakers

When: 3pm (AEDT), Sunday 16 January, 2022

Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

ESPN; Kayo; 10 Peach; 10 Play; Sky Sports NZ

Who won the last time?
Sydney 81
(Martin 29, Ware 15, Hunter 14) d New Zealand 76 (Randolph 25, C Webster 13, T Webster 12) - Round 19 2021, TSB Stadium, New Plymouth

The Kings avenged their loss two nights earlier to keep their playoff hopes alive as Jarell Martin put on an offensive clinic with 29 points, 27 of them coming from the paint or the free-throw line, overshadowing Breaker Levi Randolph’s impressive 25-point night.

What happened last start?

Sydney came out breathing fire in Wollongong, scoring the opening 11 points behind Martin and Wani Swaka Lo Buluk. After 30 minutes they led by three as their penetration-based offence gave the Hawks headaches, but in the final term the whistles went away and their offensive woes returned, Chase Buford’s men unable to find key players in good spots.

Dan Shamir knows that feeling, New Zealand scoring just 11 points in almost nine minutes surrounding the final break as they gave up o-boards, took the ball out of the net possession after possession and coughed it up regularly under Melbourne’s pressure. While Jeremiah Martin and Peyton Siva make things happen, when blanketed the offence dries up.

Who’s in form?

Peyton Siva – Bringing Siva off the bench has worked well for the Breakers, and on Friday he took Melbourne’s quality pairing of Dellavedova and Ili for 19 points and five assists while downing four triples. His match-up with Jaylen Adams will be pivotal, and defensively if he and Will McDowell-White can keep JA on the perimeter, the Kings will struggle to get looks.

Xavier Cooks – The two-way performance Cooks rolled out on Friday was extraordinary, shutting down Duop Reath while adding 16 points, 14 rebounds, three o-boards and three blocks. While Cooks can go coast-to-coast, he is an inefficient finisher in that scenario, but from the high-post or the short roll, his quick moves will test the Breakers’ shaky interior.

Who needs to be?

Yanni Wetzell – While Yanni is an offensive maestro, he lacks size and length for a true C despite his huge workrate on D, and that was exposed against Melbourne. It’s a different challenge against Cooks, however, and it’s crucial Wetzell walls up to make the X-man shoot over a hand, then shows his usual patience to evade Cook’s shot-blocking at the other end.

Wani Swaka Lo Buluk – Friday night looked like it would be a coming-out party for ‘Swak’ early, but Tyler Harvey broke his shackles with a trademark shooting display. Now he must face Jeremiah Martin, the Breakers’ chief playmaker, whose ball-screen use is impeccable when given space, so Wani must challenge his catches and pressure him to play rushed.

Who’s statting up?

 - In Melbourne’s match-winning run on Friday, the Breakers gave up 28 points in 8:30. In that time, New Zealand coughed up 5 turnovers and allowed 4 o-boards from just seven misses

 - The Breakers gave up 19 o-boards in total, while only grabbing 19 d-boards of their own. Melbourne won second chance points 16-5 in an 11-point win

 - Sydney scored 84 points in the opening 33:30 on Friday on 28/47 from two-point range and 14 free-throw attempts. In the final 6:30 they scored just five points on 1/5 on twos and no foul shots

 - In Kings wins, the opponents’ two leading perimeter scorers average 23.3 points at 26 per cent from deep. In four losses, that number rises to 37.3 points at 43 per cent from range

Who’s matching up?

Jarell Martin v Finn Delany – Martin’s past three games have delivered 22ppg at 48 per cent, lifting the NBL’s worst offence on his shoulders, while also grabbing 9.3rpg. He’s just 11/36 from range this season though, with only two games above 33 per cent, and if he can start to hit consistently it will open up plenty more opportunities for his teammates.

Delany is only shooting 30 per cent from outside this season, yet more than half his attempts are beyond the arc. The Flying Finn is a highlight finisher, quality passer, efficient free-throw shooter and can do damage on the o-boards, meaning New Zealand need him in the paint more often. His defensive job on Martin will perhaps be his most contributor on Sunday.

Who’s talking the talk?

On Thursday in the 'Gong, without Jordy Hunter, Angus Glover, Biwali Bayles, Makur Maker and, a minute into the game, RJ Hunter, the Kings somehow put themselves in a winning position with a remarkable offensive display.

But as things got tight down the stretch, they couldn’t make the plays needed to cause an enormous boilover and level the Freeway Series at 1-1.

“The only run we didn’t really have an answer for was the last one, they kicked our butts the last three or four minutes of the game, credit to them. They made shots all night and they executed down the stretch and we definitely did not,” Chase Buford said.

“We got shit shots down the stretch, we took bad ones, we didn’t get the shots we should have, there were chances to hit the pocket – the roller – over and over again, we didn’t.

“I don’t think we got selfish, we just tried to do a little bit too much ourselves and the shot quality we had for the first 35 minutes of the game dried up.”

There was a good reason why Sydney couldn’t keep up the pace, and that was import point guard Jaylen Adams being underdone after his injury lay-off.

In the first 25 minutes of the game, the pint-sized Dontaye Draper facsimile racked up nine points and eight assists as he picked Illawarra’s defence apart.

As fatigue kicked in though, Adams didn’t dish another dime, and didn’t score again until his team was down 11 with 80 seconds to play.

It was a promising performance, but coach Buford knows how much more his floor general can give.

“I'm so accustomed to a Jaylen Adams who’s so much better than what you saw tonight, so I expect more because of what he’s given me before over the years,” Buford said.

“He’s going to be even better and better as we go on, he had eight assists tonight and I thought he could have had a few more, especially down the stretch.

“But he didn’t shoot the ball as well as he would have liked, he can play better, but we’re excited to have him back in our group.”

The Breakers know that feeling, Friday’s loss to Melbourne quickly dousing any enthusiasm from their Round 6 triumph in Brisbane, but the form of their returning import point man was a big positive.

“It’s hard to be happy when you lose, I struggle being happy when we win to be honest with you,” coach Shamir chuckled.

“The positive is second game in a row we have Peyton ... We have him back, him and Jeremiah are playing well together.”

That sets up two cracking backcourt match-ups, with Siva and Adams going head-to-head, and the terrier-like Wani Swaka Lo Buluk taking on the smooth Jeremiah Martin, while the DJ Vasiljevic-Hugo Besson shooting contest could also be entertaining.

Siva and Martin scored or assisted 18 of New Zealand’s 28 field goals against United, so these battles could be decisive.

Wani may have lowered his colours to Tyler Harvey on Thursday, but his coach still backs him in to get the defensive job done.

“Credit to Harvey, he made some tough shots tonight, he played well, 23 points on 10 shots, that’s terrific,” Buford said.

“But Swak’s pretty much come in every game and taken somebody out. The best player on the other team, most nights Swak guards them and for the most part this year he’s done a terrific job.

“And it’s not just the defence, he makes simple plays on offence, he helps the ball move, he’s a really good fit, especially in our starting group.”

Shamir still backs his group’s professionalism to turn their season around, despite learning this week they will spend most, if not all, of the season on the road once again.

“For a very long time we were in the mindset of let’s get through this and wait for life to get back to normal, and here it happens the second year in a row,” he said.

“The challenge keeps on growing but the team is functioning well, everybody, hats off. Everywhere I've been I don’t know a lot of places that would survive this, but we are. The way we do it is really expect from ourselves the highest standards of everything.”

Where their standard must lift is on the boards, murdered by Melbourne 50-23, and Shamir knows his half-court style won’t succeed if they can’t compete in the possession game.

“We need to win games like that with 78 points, and for that we need to be better on the other end,” Shamir said.

“We gave up 19 offensive rebounds, that makes it tough, and a lot of little mistakes coverage-wise, concept-wise, I can’t think of one thing that hurt us, I just think we need to be much more consistent to win games like that at the defensive end.”


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