Hawks to battle Tigers in scramble to finals

BASKETBALL

The Wollongong Hawks return home today still clinging to a playoffs berth before Friday night's crucial showdown with Melbourne.

After the road trip to Adelaide and then Perth last night, the Hawks remain fourth, but Melbourne have kept the pressure on them with a nailbiting win over Cairns yesterday.

The Tigers prevailed 67-64 after the Taipans failed to produce the big plays, including a back court violation and not putting up a shot to try and force overtime in the tense final moments.

While the Hawks - who take on Melbourne at WIN Entertainment Centre on Friday night - and Sydney Kings lead the scramble towards the finals, New Zealand moved closer to defending their title after crushing Perth.

A 98-81 win in front of a 9200-capacity crowd at Vector Arena put the Breakers in prime position to hold home advantage through the finals as they strive to win a third consecutive title, something only previously achieved by the Sydney Kings (2003-5).

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While it was a strong team effort, point guard Cedric Jackson again excelled, tallying 22 points, eight assists, five rebounds and five steals.

Down 14-2 early, the Breakers blitzed Perth 63-37 in the middle quarters and shot at 50 per cent from the field, nailing 14 of their 28 three-point attempts.

NZ (18-3) have won ten straight and reasserted themselves against a Wildcats team that beat them by margins of 21 and 25 early in the season.

"We felt like the first two times [against Perth] we hadn't played well, we hadn't played very good basketball," Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis said.

"That was the main thing for us, to go out and play as we have been over these last five or six weeks, so that was pleasing.

"The last six weeks we've played a lot of games and with playing a lot of games you can find a rhythm.

"Probably a couple of weeks ago, we were getting the looks and missing the shots, now we are starting to knock them down [and] I think we've been a good defensive team all season."

NZ and Perth are the only teams at better than 50 per cent win-loss.

Wollongong broke a seven-match losing streak with an 86-78 away win over struggling Adelaide (6-14) who slumped to an 11th loss in 12 games.

Import Malcolm Grant top-scored with 21, former 36er Oscar Forman bagged 18 and Larry Davidson notched 14 points and ten rebounds, as the injury-ravaged Hawks started life without the legendary Glen Saville, who retired a few days earlier.

Sydney (10-11) stretched their losing streak to five with a 90-78 defeat at Townsville (7-12).

It continued the resurgence by the Crocs, who have won seven of their past nine games after losing their first ten.

Guard Peter Crawford celebrated a record 259th Crocs appearance with 17, just one less than team-leading Michael Cedar. Guard Jonny Flynn scored 21, as Melbourne overcame early and late deficits to squeeze out a 67-64 home win over Cairns and stay in contention.b

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