NZ look to break Taipans
ALL signs point towards the Breakers having one hand around the ANBL trophy after tonight's opening grand final game against Cairns Taipans on the North Shore.
The Breakers swept the Taipans 3-0 during the regular season and have won six of their last seven games against the Snakes all up.
The Breakers are well rested after a week off following last Wednesday's game-three victory over Perth. The Taipans are backing up from a rugged road win in Townsville on Sunday night. As well, they have had to travel, while the Breakers have home court advantage and will be roared on by a rabid full house.
That's more signs than you find in your average horoscope but the Breakers are ignoring them all.
The thrashing inflicted by Perth in the opening game of their finals campaign is still fresh enough to ensure complacency hasn't crept in.
"Cairns is a great team and they have given us some hard battles," said Gary Wilkinson, the big American forward who was fined for his part in the game-three fracas against Perth but was cleared to play tonight.
"It is definitely not going to be a walk in the park," he said."They are playing good basketball right now. They beat a great Townsville team so we definitely don't take for granted the situation we are in. We have got to come out with the same fire and passion that we had for the last two games against Perth, not let our guard down a bit."
Wilkinson was still coughing and spluttering at training yesterday, but he doesn't expect the bronchial infection he has battled throughout the playoffs to hamper him tonight.
"Once the game comes around, adrenaline comes in and those things have to take a back seat," he said.
"You can't let it be a determining factor in how you play. You just have to leave everything on the court."
Alex Pledger sat out the end of training after tweaking a long-standing knee complaint but the centre is expected to play tonight and there are no other injury concerns.
The Breakers may have had the wood on Cairns of late but that would count for nothing in finals games, coach Andrej Lemanis said.
"The history of sports shows that finals are finals," Lemanis said. "Both teams are in there for a reason and both teams are desperate to win. Both clubs are trying to get their first championship. Everybody will lay everything on the line."
Writing off the Taipans would indeed appear foolhardy. Having finished second, Townsville effectively chose to face the Taipans in the semifinals by tanking their final regular season game. That decision came back to haunt the Crocs when the Taipans came back from a game down to take the three-game series.
With the Breakers having also come from behind to book their finals spot, both sides have demonstrated plenty of resilience.
That said, the winner of tonight's game will still be strongly favoured to claim the title. Prior to this year's semifinals series, the previous 23 three-game playoff series have been won by the team that triumphed in game one. The Breakers broke that run by overhauling Perth - an achievement the Taipans matched in Townsville.
The Breakers are also hoping to break another streak - the 34 completed seasons New Zealand league, soccer and basketball teams have collectively compiled without claiming an Australian club title.
"It would be a great achievement to knock off but we have got one big hurdle in the way right now and that is Cairns," swingman Tom Abercrombie said.
"They are a tough team playing really good basketball so we are going to have to be at our best and play with the same level of intensity that we played with against Perth if we are going to get the win.
"We have been waiting for this moment all season. To be here is a great feeling. Hopefully we can go out and make the most of it. We are not there yet but we are certainly where we want to be and hopefully we can finish this thing off the right way."