NBL 2014/15 Round 14 Preview: Hawks face daunting task on the Shore
New Zealand Breakers vs. Wollongong Hawks
Thursday 8th January, 7:30pm local time
North Shore Events Centre, Auckland
Tickets: Click here
Odds: Breakers - $1.08, Hawks - $7.00
The odds say it all in regards to the difficult task the Hawks face on Thursday night. Sitting dead last on the table and riding a three game losing streak, Wollongong will travel to face the league leading Breakers in Auckland - A place where they lost only once this season.
Both sides play each other twice in Round 14, a daunting task for the Hawks who have nothing but pride to play for. The Breakers who are virtually guaranteed a playoff spot, will be looking to cement their bid for the minor premiership as five of their last nine games are against bottom four teams.
Wollongong have been playing better of late, despite losing their last three. They have played some tough competition in Perth, Cairns and Melbourne, however they've been losing by an average of just 7 points. The bottom line being that they can compete with anybody and will be dangerous if not respected.
The Breakers are fresh off a three game road trip where they dropped a crucial game to third placed Cairns. They have been the dominant side all season and have beaten Wollongong by an average of 9 points in their two previous encounters. Despite their success, the Breakers tend to play-down to the level of their opponents and have struggled to put away cellar-dwellers such as Adelaide and Townsville.
As always Cedric Jackson is the key ingredient to the Breakers' success. He is their leader on court and his play dictates how the New Zealanders fair from game to game. The Hawks must stop Jackson from getting into transition as he thrives in the open court.
Jackson has struggled when forced to guard aggressive point guards. Scottie Wilbekin has given him fits in their exchanges, as has Jermaine Beal. Hawks guards Gary Ervin and Jahii Carson will need to attack Jackson and keep him active on the defensive end. He has a tendency to play the passing lanes looking to jump-start fast breaks, so they must keep him busy.
Despite averaging 14.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists, Jackson is not a great shooter. A career 29% from deep and 56% from the charity stripe, he makes his living around the basket - Wollongong will need to make him beat them from deep.
Stopping Cedric is easier said than done and the league's second best player keeps finding ways to make teams pay.
What To Watch For
New year, new team?
Wollongong had a 2014 to forget. With three wins and 15 losses the team is playing for pride and individuals (coaches included) are playing for contracts. They have been improving, but still struggle to put together four strong quarters. Gary Ervin is a class act and now that he is healthy, wont stand for sub-par performances.
The Breakers in their last two losses (Cairns and Sydney) shot 36% from the field and were 2/37 from three-point range. It does not take a genius to see the formula for beating this team; limit transition baskets, deny the paint and force Jackson and Co to shoot contested jump shots.
The Hawks are not going to have trouble scoring, but their defense will need to be on point if they are to compete. Breakers 7th man Tai Wesley has shot 19/24 (79%) in his last two games. That sentence is mind-boggling. Wesley has noticeably dropped weight in the last few weeks (wish I could say the same) and has been in Beast Mode. His array of moves around the basket are killing teams and hiding the Breakers poor free-throw and three-point shooting. Wollongong must pick their poison wisely.
This game will be close in stages, but the Breakers are a class above this year and should be too strong at home. The Hawks have proven that they can compete with the best teams in the league, just not beat them. They will need four solid quarters and some Breakers mistakes to take the W.
Breakers by 12