October 25, 2013

Article at SportsNewsFirst

Wildcats unbeaten, Breakers struggling early

THE Perth Wildcats have kept its unbeaten start to the NBL season going downing New Zealand 96-89 in Auckland on Thursday with the three-time champion Breakers losing a third straight match.

While it certainly does nothing to make up for the fact that New Zealand has beaten Perth in the last two grand final series, and in the semi finals the season previous to that on its way to a hat-trick of NBL championships, it puts a sizeable gap between the competition's dominant teams of the last four years.

The Wildcats now sit clear atop the NBL with a 4-0 record following wins over the Adelaide 36ers, Sydney Kings, Melbourne Tigers and now New Zealand.

New Zealand, on the other hand, has a new coach this season and two new imports, and things aren’t quite clicking yet with the Breakers now having lost three straight games to Townsville, Cairns and Perth after having a season-opening victory at home to the Wollongong Hawks.

The Breakers lost only four games all of last season but now already have three defeats in Round 3 of the 2013/14 under new coach Dean Vickerman, and with new imports Kerron Johnson and Darnell Lazare.

The loss at Auckland's North Shore Events Centre on Thursday was also the first time the Breakers have lost at home since last season's season-opener against Perth snapping a 16-game winning run.

It was the most impressive and complete performance from the four wins so far this season for the Wildcats as well.

In the previous three losses, NBA-contracted excitement machine James Ennis and veteran forward Shawn Redhage had carried the load offensively, but there was a much more even spread against the Breakers.

Ennis still led the way in another incredible display finishing with 29 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals including some exciting high-flying plays at the rim, but he received plenty of help this time around from his teammates.

Redhage scored just 12 points but did have nine rebounds and four assists before fouling out late in the final period, but it was the other role players that were most impressive for Perth.

Import guard Jermaine Beal had been underwhelming in the opening three games for the Wildcats, but was a strong contributor in Auckland with 19 points and five assists even though he did shoot just 8-of-17 from the field.

Forward Jesse Wagstaff came up big off the bench with 17 points largely made up of his shooting of 4-of-7 from beyond the three-point line.

Captain Damian Martin was again terrific with seven points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals while Eric Burdon nailed his two shots of the game and had five points in his first sign in the opening four games that he's capable of contributing.

It was a disappointing showing from the Breakers in front of their home fans even though point guard Johnson was solid with 17 points and five assists on an efficient 6-of-8 shooting from the field.

His fellow import Lazare continues to struggle, though, and had just six points and three rebounds in 18 minutes of court time.

He was viewed as an upgrade on last season's import big man Will Hudson after showing good signs with the Sydney Kings, but he has now had four poor games to start his career in New Zealand.

On a more positive note for the Breakers, centre Alex Pledger did well for 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists while shooting 7-of-10 from the field.

Tom Abercrombie was plagued by foul trouble limiting him to 20 minutes and lessening the impact he had trying to guard Ennis, but he still scored 14 points. Mika Vukona battled hard for 13 and six boards.

Six-time championship-winner CJ Bruton scored 11 points to go with three boards and three assists while Daryl Corletto hit eight points.

New Zealand was returning home following the Sunshine Swing last weekend that saw them return home with losses to Townsville and Cairns, but the Breakers got off to a hot start hitting the first six points of the game and leading early by as many as 13 points.

However, Perth came out an inspired outfit in the second period hitting 30 points to 19 to hold a 47-45 half-time advantage even after a Bruton three on the buzzer to end the half.

The Breakers could then not make any inroads throughout the second half as the Wildcats cruised to the eventual seven-point victory.

Round 3 of the NBL now continues on Friday with the Cairns Taipans hosting the Adelaide 36ers at Cairns Convention Centre.

The Wollongong Hawks then plays the Townsville Crocodiles at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Saturday night before on Sunday, the Sydney Kings host the Perth Wildcats and the Melbourne Tigers take on the Adelaide 36ers at The Cage.