Hawks mission: Get Vukona

BASKETBALL

HE doesn't soar for gravity-defying dunks like James Ennis or shoot crowd-pleasing threes like Chris Goulding but Mika Vukona might just be the NBL's best all-round player.

Despite standing just 1.96-metres, the hard-working Vukona is second in the league for rebounds.

The New Zealand Breakers forward is a bull under the basket, possessing a range of left and right-hand moves which allows him to make difficult shots against taller opponents.

His outside shot has to be respected and Vukona has a knack for finding teammates with deft passes.

But defence is where he really makes a living.

The 31-year-old is the only player in the league truly capable of guarding every position from point guard to centre.

Vukona looms as the biggest obstacle in the Wollongong Hawks' plans to beat the Breakers tonight in Auckland.

"He's just a workhorse. He's probably the strongest guy in the league for his size and how much he weighs," Hawks guard Rhys Martin said of Vukona.

"He's always up the floor, trying to deny the point guard and make it tough. He's a very active player. That's why he's so successful. He just doesn't stop moving.

"You always have to get a body on him when the shot goes up because he's always going to the glass.

"We kind of play off him on the shot but he's hurt us from that 15-foot [4.5m] range, so we have to be mindful of not letting him get easy shots and stop him from getting a free run to the basket.

"You have to do your work early with that guy and get at his legs so he can't spin and jump."

The Breakers were thrashed by Perth last week while the Hawks blew a 16-point half-time lead in a 79-77 home loss to Cairns.

Both teams will be desperate to win tonight. The Hawks have to back up on Sunday for a home game against Melbourne.

"A close loss is never easy to take, and on-the-buzzer's even harder, but that's in the past and we just have to move forward and do our best against New Zealand," Martin said.

"We're not worried about Sunday. Taking care of business in Thursday night's game is the only concern for us right now," he said yesterday.

"It's going to pretty tight from here on out. Anybody you play has a chance to make the top four and every game is that much more important now."

"We like to pull their big guys out and play off a lot of on-ball screens," Martin said.

"If we can be effective with those, get into the paint and stay aggressive, that's going to bring guys into the game like Oscar [Forman] and Larry [Davidson] with their perimeter shooting."

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop