The Perth Wildcats play their first home game of the season against the defending champion New Zealand Breakers. The two teams have enjoyed a fiery rivalry in recent years, with the Breakers mostly coming out on top, beating the Wildcats in two grand finals.
Perth will be looking to turn that around, starting this Friday in “The Jungle” at the Perth Arena. They’re up against a New Zealand team considerably weaker than last season. The Breakers lost Corey Webster, who’s auditioning with the New Orleans Pelicans for an NBA contract, without him they aren’t the same side.
That was evident in their opening game, blown off the court by the Adelaide 36ers, losing to the tune of 19 points. New Zealand rebounded with an unimpressive eight point victory over a Townsville Crocodile side expected to finish at the bottom of the table, then got hammered by 21 points against the Illawarra Hawks on Wednesday night.
The Perth Wildcats will be looking to build on their first round win against the 36ers. It wasn’t a flawless game, but the ‘Cats showed enough to suggest they’re going to be very hard to beat this season.
What to expect from the Breakers
New Zealand lost Corey Webster, but they still have lightning-quick point guard Cedric Jackson.With his three seasons in the NBL producing three championships, Jackson’s worth to his team is undeniable.
For this Breakers team, everything starts with Cedric. He’s the playmaker who gets the rest of the team involved. Jackson’s a master at getting to and finishing at the rim. However, he isn’t a particularly good shooter. This season teams have goaded him into shooting, leaving him wide open at the 3-point line – he’s responded by only hitting 2-13 from deep. Expect Perth to employ the same tactic.
With Corey Webster gone, a lot is expected from Tom Abercrombie. The 28-year-old Kiwi is a fantastic 3-point shooter – hitting them at over 47% last season. If the Wildcats can keep him quite, the Breakers have little chance of winning the game. Casey Prather, who shut down Ebi Ere in the first game, will probably get the job on Abercrombie.
Former Wildcat Everard Bartlett is also a major threat from the outside. He torched the Crocs with five 3-pointers from seven attempts, ending the game with 19 points. He hit three more against the Hawks – the Breakers will need more of that on Friday night.
They also need a big game from American import Charles Jackson – not to be confused with Cedric. He’ll likely get the job of trying to stop Nate Jawai. Jackson was soundly beaten by the 36ers big men in the opening game. He was better against the Crocs but the Wildcats, with Matty Knight and Nate Jawai, represent a far greater challenge. From what we’ve seen of him this season, that might be a challenge too great for Jackson – Charles that is.
Keys to the game
The other Jackson, Cedric, is coming off one of his worst games in the NBL, scoring just 1 point against the Hawks. He’ll be fired up to atone for that on Friday night. Perth’s backup point guard, Jarrad Kenny, did a great job defending Adelaide’s star guard, Adam Gibson, in the opening game. If Damian Martin doesn’t play again this week, he’ll be expected to do the same against Cedric.
The Perth Wildcats will need to stop Abercrombie and Bartlett getting open shots from the 3-point line. If they can do that, it will go a long way to winning the game.
Conversely, the Wildcats need to make the most of their chances from behind the arc. We saw against Adelaide, with Nate Jawai commanding double-teams, the Perth perimeter players were given many wide open looks from 3-point range. On that occasion, they were able to hit enough of them to make the 36ers pay, the hope is the Wildcats can continue to do that for the rest of the season.
Continue feeding the Beast
The debut for Nate “The Beast” Jawai started impressively. Although he only played 20 minutes for the game, we saw how dominant a Jawai led offense can be. With a game under their belt, we can expect an improved chemistry between Jawai and his teammates.
New Zealand’s big men were dominated on the boards and in the post against Adelaide, who Perth annihilated in those same areas. If that trend continues, Nate Jawai is going to have a monster game.
If the Breakers can hit their 3-pointers and limit Perth’s attempts at the other end, they’re a chance, but it’s not likely. The Perth Wildcats in front of their home crowd, for the first time this season, should win and win big.
We ‘ll find out, in “The Jungle” on Friday night.