THERE will be no playoffs "pre-season" for the Breakers this time around.
This time last year the reigning champions were about to ice the NBL minor premiership with a good month to spare. With four fixtures to fulfil and virtually nothing to be gained, coach Andrej Lemanis labelled the stretch a pre-season for the forthcoming playoff campaign.
It was a device designed to get the team focused on the main goal - converting a dominant regular-season into a breakthrough title. While that did eventually happen, the merits of the "pre-season" approach were debatable. After a steady diet of pressure-free basketball, the Breakers were promptly smacked 101-78 by a battle-hardened Perth in their opening finals match.
"That playoff intensity shocks you awake again," Lemanis admitted.
This season, with the NBL ladder still far from settled, there is no need for a contrived approach. Starting tonight against third-placed Townsville, the first-placed Breakers face a torrid six-match run home. With a two-match series against the Crocs and Blaze and a trip to Perth in the mix, the Breakers will be pushed to hold on to top spot.
That, said Lemanis, was exactly how they wanted it.
"Last year going in we had an easier schedule," he said.
"It can leave you behind the eight ball a little bit. This year going in we will have been playing at playoff intensity for the last month."
With the Wildcats just a game back and snapping at their heels ahead of a showdown in Perth next Sunday, the Breakers have scant breathing room.
Third-placed Townsville hit Auckland tonight in fine form after rebounding from a shock loss to Adelaide with a 75-43 thumping of Cairns and an 80-66 victory over the Blaze that snapped the Gold Coast club's six-game win streak.
Still three games back of the Breakers, the Crocs must win tonight to keep the pressure on the top two.
"There is still lots of basketball to be played out," Lemanis said.
"Everyone from first to fifth can finish in any of those spots so it is pretty desperate times for everybody, and it is good to be playing teams that are in that situation."
The Breakers will be without bench forward BJ Anthony, who has not trained since completing an in-house ban for breaching the team's disciplinary policy last week.
Anthony, who reported back for duty having shed several kilograms, was due to have an MRI scan on a painful area on his lower leg yesterday.
Dillon Boucher is also struggling with a sore toe.
While the Breakers took out the first meeting between the clubs 88-74, they were forced to recover from a 33-14 deficit.
"They're really hot," point guard Cedric Jackson said.
"We've got to figure out a way to slow them down. We've got to make sure we get out to their shooters because last time they got out to 20 on us really quick."
Breakers' run home
v Townsville (H), tonight
v Perth (A), March 4
v Adelaide (A), March 10
v Gold Coast (H), March 15
v Townsville (A), March 23
v Gold Coast (A) March 25.
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