Basketball: NZ Breakers harbour bitter COVID-19 memories on return to Launceston to face Tasmania JackJumpers

Amid an alarming early-season slump, NZ Breakers must return to a venue that holds few pleasant memories from their enforced COVID-19 exile across the Tasman.

Since winning their season-opener against Cairns Taipans, the Auckland-based ANBL team have just one victory in their last seven outings - their only other win was also against the Taipans.

Already playing an import short, with American forward Zylan Cheatham still recovering from injury, the Breakers head across the ditch to an unhappy hunting ground to face third-placed Tasmania JackJumpers.

Mody Maor wants more from his players... a win would be nice.
Mody Maor wants more from his players... a win would be nice. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Launceston is not my favourite place," insisted coach Mody Maor, who was assistant to Dan Shamir through those two ill-fated campaigns.

"Launceston, specifically, is a place we spent a lot of time in. It wasn't our favourite spot, so let's go and win... change the vibe."

In 2020/21, despite their pedicament, the Breakers finished eighth with a 12-24 record, but were even worse the following season, winning just five games - the worst in their history - while based mainly in Tasmania.

Last time they visited Launceston, they inflicted an 84-76 defeat on the home team in a bitter contest that saw projectiles thrown from the crowd and physical play spilling over on court. After the final buzzer, Breakers players openly taunted the fans, waving goodbye, as they left the venue.

"I expect us to compete at a high level," said Maor, when reminded of this. "If this requires us to step up and trade some blows, I'm OK with this."

New Zealand teams often respond best to percieved affronts, whether from fans or officials, so Maor may just be lighting a fire under his players, who were well below their best in a 94-76 loss in Perth over the weekend.

"We're obviously not happy at all," he said. "There are things within our process that we feel we're getting better at, but our job is to win basketball games, so we're definitely not happy with our record.

"We're in the process of becoming better in many areas, but we're a little bit behind on the timeline for different reasons. Our defence is getting better, but it's not where it needs to be.

"Our connectivity between our players is getting better, but it's not where it needs to be. I can feel that coming and we are deliberately trying to address all these aspects."

Since reaching the 2022/23 finals, where they lost to Sydney Kings, the Breakers have turned over half their roster, so the chemistry is taking time to gel. 

Breakers and JackJumpers engage at Launceston.
Breakers and JackJumpers engage at Launceston. Photo credit: Getty Images

American guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright will enter this game as the league's topscorer, averaging 20.4 points a game, and second for assists, but his presence may actually be impeding Aussie guard Will McDowell-White, one of the key contributors to last season's playoff run.

Balancing those two backcourt talents may hold the key to turning their fortunes around.

"Like all of our players, he's been competing, he's been coachable, he's been a great part of our team from an individual standpoint," assessed Maor. "He's one of the nicest people I've ever been around.

'He's a joy to coach, but now it's time to win."