Both teams will have Mika Vukona on their mind when the NBL-leading New Zealand Breakers and Perth Wildcats complete their double-header on Sunday.
Tall Blacks veteran Vukona will play his 400th league game in the return match at Perth, where the hosts will be out to avenge their 88-84 loss in Auckland on Thursday.
That win was the Breakers’ seventh on the trot, extending their league record to 7-1 while the two-time defending champion Wildcats remained second (5-2).
Travelling to Perth is usually motivation enough for the Breakers but coach Paul Henare admits Vukona’s latest milestone will be on their mind.
“Mika won’t want any recognition but for the rest of us, the best way we can honour him is by playing with the same passion that he has for the game and his team-mates,” Henare said.
“Perth are a hell of a team but the belief this group has with everybody who steps on the floor is really powerful right now.”
One of the NBL’s great rivalries is traditionally dominated by the home side.
Henare hopes to break the mould against opponents who were hard enough to dispatch on Kiwi soil this week.
“It doesn’t get any bigger in terms of playing the defending champs on their home floor,” he said.
“We spoke about being calm, you have to hold your composure. We’ve got some guys who have won a few times over in Perth so we’ll go over there with confidence.”
Perth counterpart Trevor Gleeson hopes to spoil Vukona’s big day but otherwise had nothing but praise for the 35-year-old.
Gleeson says it was obvious early in his coaching career the tough forward – who he described as an “ultimate warrior” – was the sort of player to build a title around.
“He’s probably the one guy that I would have loved coaching, from way back when I was at Townsville,” Gleeson said.
“He’s unselfish, he does everything for the team, he puts his body on the line.”