Sixers wary of desperate Breakers
ON Saturday night Adelaide has a chance to send 2015 NBL champion and 2016 runner-up New Zealand into the spectator stands for the 2017 playoffs, if it stays true to form on Saturday night.
Beaten last round 95-92 by Illawarra, the Sixers have not lost consecutive games since round seven, when they dropped four in a row, well before they swept to the top of the tree and to their first regular-season championship since 2000.
The fact New Zealand has named import Akil Mitchell and warhorse Mika Vukona is testament to both men's extraordinary recuperative abilities and also how badly the Breakers need to win to stay alive in the finals race.
Mitchell's eye was poked out of its socket nine days ago against Cairns while Vukona suffered lower back spasms a minute into the second half against Sydney on Sunday and could not continue.
Clearly New Zealand, at 12-14 and with two games left, will be psyched and inspired at Titanium Security Arena, especially if Mitchell gets the all-clear.
"Just getting back period is pretty amazing," 36ers coach Joey Wright said of Mitchell's recovery. "I guess there isn't any precedent for that.
"New Zealand will throw everything at us but so they should."
It's the last roll of the dice for the Breakers who will need playmaker Kevin Dillard and back-court partner Kirk Penney at their best to contain Jerome Randle and Nathan Sobey.
New Zealand lost two matches last round after looking in the championship mix.
"I don't know what's happened in the last two weeks," Breakers coach Paul Henare said.
"Possibly I've done a s*** job in terms of holding each other accountable to our standards, but when things get tough right now, there's a bit of angst and worry on the looks of the faces out there, instead of trusting each other and trusting the process.
"It's there. We had a really good patch where we beat some good teams through playing some good solid basketball (and) staying locked into what we're trying to do and having each other's back.
"For whatever reason, that seems to have gone out the door in the last game and a half."
Wright said his own men had been caught out by the Hawks last week.
"Illawarra wanted it more," he said.
"But we've trained great this week, with a lot of energy."