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NBL 2014/15 Round 4 Preview: Breakers look to blow away Crocs in the 'City of Sails'
New Zealand Breakers V Townsville Crocodiles
Vector Arena, Auckland
tip off: Friday 31st October, 5:30pm local time
Tickets: click here
Odds: Breakers - $1.25, Crocodiles - $3.70
The Breakers (3-2) and the Crocodiles (2-2) have both had inconsistent starts to the season. Neither has defined themselves as true title contenders, yet they have proved themselves to be competitive outfits with room to grow.
The Breakers are coming off a disappointing victory over the Wollongong Hawks, where an inability to close the game out, almost cost them a dominant victory. Free throw shooting has been an issue for them all season, shooting a horrid 63% - a stat line that will have huge ramifications if not adjusted. This is a team that is yet to fire on all cylinders and will need to be on top of its game to overcome the Crocs zone-defense and solid all-round play.
Townsville is coming off an impressive victory over Melbourne United, as they flexed their interior dominance, out-rebounding United by 12 and shooting 47% from the field. With big men Brian Conklin and Mickell Gladness cleaning up the glass, they negated an off-shooting night by Todd Blanchfield, who missed all five of his three-point attempts. Blanchfield and Clint Steindl have been assassins from long-range this season and their accuracy will go a long way in determining the end result.
Much will be said about the 'big name' players for both squads; Conklin, Gladness, Blanchfield, Cedric Jackson, Corey Webster etc, they will get theirs, however it will be the boys riding the pine who will be keys to victory.
The Breakers have been stifled by zone defense all season. Melbourne and Cairns suffocated their offense, forcing ill-timed and ill-positioned shots. Townsville play a lot of zone and will surely implement it during the game. Outside of Corey Webster, none of the Breakers starters are confident outside shooters. Enter Carter, who has been a spark-plug this season, scoring in bunches and allowing the starters to get solid rest.
Carter is averaging 8.6 ppg and is shooting 42% from long range; if the Breakers can improve their ball-movement in zone situations, Carter should find himself open often. If the Breakers can shoot their way out of the zone, they will back themselves in man-man sets. The Crocs will need to maintain Carter and Webster and force weaker shooters like Tom Abercrombie to beat them. United took 29 Three-pointers last week, a number the defense cannot allow to be replicated at Vector Arena.
What To Watch For
Banging bigs and gnarly guards
Townsville owns one of the better front-court tandems in the NBL; Conklin is a borderline MVP and Gladness has the pedigree and potential to be a force in the paint. The Breakers have been weak on the interior all season; Ibekwe has shown glimpses, but struggles to stay out of foul trouble, Alex Pledger is clearly struggling with injury and Tai Wesley has been instrumental off the bench, but cannot carry this team on the inside.
Gladness had six turnovers against United and will have to watch his post-passing and limit his dribbling as Mika Vukona will have a field day picking him off. For the Crocs, they like to run an up-tempo offense and will be looking to get the ball to Steindl and Blanchfield for quick, high percentage shots.
The way Conklin has been playing this year (22.8 ppg, 8.3rpg 53% shooting) should draw double-teams as the Breakers will struggle to defend him one-on-one. This will also free-up Townsville's shooters for good looks.
The Breakers have committed 47% of their team's field goals to Jackson, Webster and Carter - a huge number! This not only indicates their game plan, but also the key to their success (they've won three games). If they get loose early, the Crocs will be playing catch up.
The winner of this game is going to cement their place in the upper echelon of the competition standings. It should be a fiery affair.
With less competition games this year, each win and loss becomes essential in a playoff push. The Breakers at home should be too strong despite their interior deficiencies.
If the Crocs can control the paint, limit turnovers and suffocate with their zone, they should win comfortably - Easier said than done.
Breakers by 6