NBL 2014/15 Round 7 Preview: Breakers look for fourth straight against resurgent United
New Zealand Breakers vs. Melbourne United
Friday 21st November, 7:30 local time
Vector Arena, Auckland
Odds: Breakers - $1.45, United - $2.60
Tickets: click here
Friday night sees the 7-3 Breakers take on the suddenly relevant 4-4 United at Vector Arena in Auckland. The Breakers are coming off three straight victories; the most recent being a cake-walk against Wollongong. Undefeated at Vector Arena this year, the kiwis are clicking with imports Cedric Jackson and Ekene Ibekwe producing at a high level. Against the Hawks, the Breakers overcame a three point (yes you read that correctly) third quarter to win by 16. Star shooting guard Corey Webster also had an off night, scoring just 8 points on 4/18 shooting. They are not playing their best basketball, yet they're still winning, which is an ominous sign for the rest of the league.
United have finally started to live up to the lofty expectations that were hastily put on them to start the season. In round six they defeated the table-topping Cairns Taipans and the Brock Motum led Adelaide 36ers to pull to .500 for the season and set themselves up for a shot at the playoffs. Led by there solid trio of Mark Worthington, Daniel Kickert and Dave Barlow, United has been destroying teams from the outside, going 36/62 in the weekend - An absurd 22 of them coming against Adelaide. United have also had some welcomed production from their import, Jordan McRae. McRae leads the league in points per game with 22.3 (sorry Brock two games doesn't qualify) and shot an unbelievable 10/11 from the field against the 36ers.
Last time these teams met, the Breakers severely underestimated the shooting prowess of United and were burnt; The Melbournians hit 12 from long range and won the game comfortably 95-74. Breakers fans better hope coach Dean Vickerman watched last weeks game!
Captain Wortho torched the Breakers back in round two to the tune of 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. His combination with Daniel Kickert and Dave Barlow challenged the Breakers rotations, who simply could not get a hand up to contest shots. Granted, since then the Breakers have held opponents to 30% from long range and have been impressive at home.
Against Adelaide, Worthington only had 6 points as he simply wasnt needed, however this week he will be heavily leaned on. Averaging 15.1 points, 8.7 rebounds (career high) and 58% from the field (career high), Wortho is a key cog to United's success and if they plan on keeping up with the Breakers fast-paced offense, he will need to produce.
The Breakers are vulnerable on the perimeter and although teams have not shot well against them, the shots have been there. United pose the biggest threat that they have faced from long range and Wortho and Co must take the opportunities when they inevitably present themselves.
What To watch For
Get dem bounds! (Rebounding)
The past three rounds, the Breakers have made a living off second chance points averaging 10.3 offensive boards per game. These numbers might not jump out off the page, but Ibekwe and Tai Wesley have being making each opportunity count. Ibekwe looks like a man among boys on court and is proving himself to be a solid signing for the New Zealanders. Playing away from home, United cannot afford to give the Breakers extra possessions, as they need to slow down the Breakers transition offense and force the likes of Mika Vukona (37% fg) and Reuben Te Rangi (27% fg) to beat them in half-court sets.
The Breakers are going to have to play much better than they have in their current three game win streak, as United pose a threat from the outside that no other team can present. If the Breakers can limit United's outside-shooting advantage and keep the game fast paced, it will be tough for United to overcome away from home. Stephen Dennis has a tough task in stopping Jackson - it could be a long, sobering night for United.
Whilst it is tough to go against the Breakers at home on a three game streak, I think United has enough shooting prowess to shift the tide. If they can continue their hot shooting, United should be in a good position to steal one away from home.
United by 3