New Zealand Breakers go down to Illawarra Hawks in Rakeem Christmas' debut

Six losses in nine games might not qualify as a genuine slump, but Breakers coach Paul Henare's admits to growing concern about his team's recent form.

The Breakers were beaten 90-79 by the Illawarra Hawks on Saturday night in Wollongong, leaving them with a 12-7 record after winning nine of their first 10 games.

Newly-signed import Rakeem Christmas (14 points, eight rebounds) was impressive in his ANBL debut, but the Breakers were overrun by the Hawks in the final period after trailing by just two at three-quarter time.

"The Hawks deserved to win, but for whatever reason we can't sustain discipline or momentum and it's an issue right now," Henare said.

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"We haven't been able to put the foot on anyone's throat, and until we get that killer instinct we're going to allow teams to hang around."

The Hawks built an early five-point lead in the first period before Christmas briefly turned the game in the Breakers' favour with eight points, three rebounds, a steal and a block in a five-minute stint off the bench, as the Breakers pulled ahead 21-18 at quarter-time.

The hosts opened the second period with eight unanswered points, but the Breakers didn't flinch and the lead changed hands several times as halftime approached, with the Hawks going to the break up 46-44.

ANBL MVP contender Demitrius Conger (17 points, 10 rebounds) raised the bar with a flurry of points in the third period to put the Hawks up by seven, though the Breakers closed the gap to 60-58 at three-quarter time.

However, with Australian Boomers rep Nick Kay (20 and nine) matching the Breakers' Edgar Sosa for points on the night, it was the home side with the desperation down the stretch to complete the job.

Henare is now looking ahead to his side's stiff task on Thursday night when they host league leaders Melbourne United, owners of a seven-game win streak.

"We get to measure ourselves against the number one team in the competition," he said.

"We're in a dogfight to get in the playoffs."

One player who will surely help in that fight is Christmas, partner of Michael Jordan's 25-year-old daughter Jasmine, who grew up playing the sport in the Virgin Islands, before being drafted to the NBA by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2015 and eventually playing 30 games for the Indiana Pacers over two seasons.

"He was really effective," Henare said.

"Hopefully it's a sign of things to come."

Standing 2.06m and weighing 113kg, Christmas expects to improve with each game.

"I was out there trying to catch my wind and it'll take a couple games to get it back," the former University of Syracuse star said.

"I just want to come in and contribute as best I can."

Illawarra's ninth win of the season kept them in final four contention with nine games remaining.

"It's going to be tough to make the playoffs, but we've got New Zealand and Adelaide three more times each and at least we know destiny could be in our hands," Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said.

 - AAP

Fuente: WAIKATO TIMES