Basketball: NZ Breakers coach Mody Maor embraces underdog tag heading into sudden-death ANBL finals grudge match

NZ Breakers coach Mody Maor was at his sardonic best, when addressing his team's chances against Sydney Kings in their Australian NBL play-in game.

Last year's finalists will go head-to-head again at Qudos Bank Arena, where the stakes will be at their highest. Win and advance to a second sudden-death play-in game against the winners of between Tasmania JackJumpers and Illawarra Hawks, where the next step is the semi-finals.

Lose and the curtains come down for good on your 2023/24 campaign.

Zylan Cheatham in action against the Kings.
Zylan Cheatham in action against the Kings. Photo credit: Getty Images

The bookies are leaning heavily towards the Kings to get the job done on their homecourt - and Maor has no hesitation endorsing that stance.

"Sydney are definitely the favourites," he said. "They have the higher seed on purpose.

"It's not by accident, they've earned this. They're the most talented offensive team in the league - they have the ability to explode in every game.

"People are right to write us off."

While the defending champion Kings finished only one spot higher on the ladder than the sixth-placed Breakers, they'll undoubtedly take plenty of confidence from the thumping they inflicted on the Auckland team the last time they locked horns across the Tasman.

Led by a 39-point blitzkrieg from Jaylen Adams, the Sydneysiders demolished the Breakers 105-76 in a demoralising defeat many predicted would finally break the NZ side.

Rather than wilting, the Breakers reeled off four wins in their next five games, before salvaging their season with a home win over Brisbane Bullets.

As Maor points out, that miserable night in Sydney was far closer to the exception than the norm, when it comes to their rapidly growing rivalry with the Kings, dating back to last season's epic five-game finals series.

"That was a very unique game," he noted. "I don't think this is the tale of the tape, when these two teams meet.

"We were on the backend of a back-to-back, a very challenging one. They came in and played an incredible game from their standpoint, shot 60 percent from three in the first half and broke it completely open.

"They showed us some of the things that they do, and there's things to look at and study and do better, but that game doesn't dictate anything."

More encouraging for the Breakers will be the previous result, when they closed out a comprehensive 109-101 win over the Kings at Auckland's Spark Arena in late December.

In fairness, that version of the Breakers was more dangerous simply on the baiss that Anthony Lamb was on the court. The American import has since seen his first year in Auckland prematurely ended by a ruptured Achilles tendon.

His absence makes the availability of guard Will McDowell-White that much more critical. In the latest in a series of ailments that have plagued his campaign, the Australian was forced off the court with a shoulder injury in their final regular season game against Adelaide 36ers.

Will McDowell-White re-injures his shoulder against Adelaide.
Will McDowell-White re-injures his shoulder against Adelaide. Photo credit: Getty Images

Maor doesn't give much away regarding McDowell-White's prospects against the Kings, simply assessing his condition as "okay".

The prognosis was more convincing for forward Finn Delany, who Maor expects to return after he was hobbled by back spasms at Adelaide.

With or without these players, Maor is confident his team - who have essentially been in must-win territory since early January - have the firepower to stun the Kings.

"We've been in post-season mode for a very long time," said Maor. "It's been over six weeks since we've been in a situation where every game matters to us, so we're kind of riding the same wave, which is great.

"The energy's never dipped. The level of commitment the level of focus is incredible.

"Practice is really fun. I feel we're in a good place coming into [Wednesday] night."