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R9 Preview: New Zealand v Perth

Who: New Zealand Breakers v Perth Wildcats When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Wednesday, 2 December Where: North Shore Events Centre, Auckland Watch: Fox Sports (Live and in HD); Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Perth 86 (Beal 19, Prather 18, Jawai 15) d New Zealand 80 (Webster 23, Cedric Jackson 15), Round 8, Perth Arena THE MATCH-UP Tom Abercrombie v Casey Prather – Abercrombie was the league’s best small forward across the opening six weeks, including two standout performances against Prather, but the Wildcats import has bounced back and was a star in Perth’s tough home win over the Breakers last week. THE STATS Since the Wildcats’ Round 6 clash with New Zealand, Prather is averaging 21.3 points per game at 23/34 68 per cent shooting. Before that his numbers were 14.3ppg at 43 per cent. Abercrombie has averaged 9.0 points at 29 per cent from the field and 23 per cent from range since Round 6, compared to 15.3ppg at 51 per cent on field goals and 42 per cent on triples before that. THE STORY It was in Adelaide that Casey Prather finally found his NBL feet, scoring a slashing 20 points on a sizzling 9-of-11 from the floor. “It’s up to him to play at that level all the time instead of getting in that comfortable mode,’’ Perth coach Trevor Gleeson said post-game. “If he’s comfortable he pushes uphill but if he gets in that fourth gear, look out.” Maybe it was Tom Abercrombie unleashing a 20-point, 11-rebound can of you-know-what on Prather in Round 6 that sparked him into gear, after running up 23 points against him in Round 2. Whatever the case, the Wildcats’ rookie import got redemption last Friday with 18 points, while helping keep the Kiwi jumping jack to just seven points in a tentative display. It wasn’t just Abercrombie’s scoring off the mark, pulling in just four boards – and only two at the defensive end - after heading into the game the NBL’s number one perimeter rebounder. “We gave up a lot of second chance points,” Breaker Everard Bartlett said. “With big bodies like Matty Knight and Jawai, that’s takes the attention of our big guys and it’s up to us guards to swoop in and grab the loose ones. “I thought Perth got to the loose basketball more than us.” That helped the Wildcats win the points in the paint battle 52-26 and overcome the Breakers’ stifling defence of the three-point line, which held the home side to 1-of-13 from the arc. Despite a quiet statline, Knight was a key part of that inside dominance - helping keep Mika Vukona to a season-low one offensive rebound - as was the performance of Jawai in the second half. Alex Pledger was a defensive wall early in the game – he and Charles Jackson combined for 14 boards and six blocks – but as the game wore on Jawai got on top of New Zealand’s single coverage. Vickerman was coy about whether he would repeat that tactic a fourth time, while Gleeson is hoping for more of the same after Jawai and Tom Jervis accumulated 25 points and 14 boards in 39 minutes. “I would have liked Nate to get some more touches actually. He finished with 11 shots and Matty Knight six so we’ve got to get the ball to them a little bit better than we did,” he said. “That’s an advantage for us and I’m happy if they want to do single coverage.” THE WRAP Coach Vickerman summed up this finale to the Breakers-Wildcats season series by saying, “it’s 2-1 and they're one point up so it’s going to be a great game”. The defending champs have won 11 of their past 12 at the North Shore Events Centre, but a loss Wednesday would see Perth skip 2.5 games clear in second spot with the series in hand. Games at NSEC are rarely slow-paced, which will suit the Cedric Jackson and the Breakers’ open-court greyhounds, but the Wildcats pulled in an impressive 42 per cent of the boards at their offensive end last week, and a repeat will give them every chance of controlling the tempo and making the most of their big men inside.
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