The Hawks and Tigers' seasons have been heading in opposing directions for some time and now the crossover that seemed inevitable has taken place after Melbourne beat Wollongong 77-70 at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Friday night.
Melbourne's seven-point victory was its third straight as it now has racked up seven wins in the last nine games to improve to a 9-10 record after being 2-8 at one point.
Wollongong, largely due to season-ending injuries to Lance Hurdle, Rhys Martin and Glen Saville (career-ending), has now lost nine of its last 10 games to be outside of the top four for the first time this season at 9-12. After eight games, the Hawks were 7-1.
With a talented squad featuring starting NBA point guard from only two seasons ago Jonny Flynn, quality import big man Seth Scott, emerging scorer Chris Goulding, experience of Matt Burston, Adam Ballinger and Tommy Greer, and inside presence of Lucas Walker, the Tigers were always likely to click at some point.
With it being Chris Anstey's first season as coach and with Flynn only arriving after five games it was never going to happen immediately, but a 7-2 record of late shows that the Tigers are beginning to click and it will take a significant drop off from here for them not to end up playing in the finals.
The same can be said for the Hawks – it will take a significant and unlikely turnaround from here given their lack of personnel to resurrect their season and find a way to get back into the four especially with Townsville coming up quickly from behind having won seven of nine games too.
The Tigers started strongly in Wollongong on Friday night to lead 26-16 at quarter-time and were never seriously threatened from there to run out seven-point winners.
Flynn top-scored with 23 points and eight assists with Goulding adding 18 points. Scott also had 13 points and nine rebounds with Walker chipping in with 10 points and eight boards.
Tigers coach Anstey always felt his side would improve in the second part of the season and that's how it's panning out.
"I think we have been in control of our destiny for a number of weeks now. One of the toughest things early on in the year was that we weren’t playing many games so we had long practice weeks and they can be tougher than playing game on game," Anstey said.
"Now we are playing a lot of games and the best way to improve is to play games together. We are becoming a better basketball team. I thought we were well in control of that game even though obviously they made some runs at us."
Adris Deleon top-scored for Wollongong with 18 points and five assists. Oscar Forman also had a big night with 17 points and 11 rebounds with Larry Davidson scoring 10 points to go with nine boards and three blocks.
Hawks coach Gordie McLeod can't fault his team's effort, but knows they are struggling to come to terms with the players lost.
"We struggled a bit in the first quarter and our defence didn’t really have the punch that we needed it to so it could disrupt them," McLeod said.
"From then on in the second, third and fourth quarters our defence was pretty good. They probably got a few more than we wanted in the last, but part of that was fouling.
"The effort areas were good and what we are lacking at the moment is any real fluency with what we are doing, and that understanding of how we are going to get shots and how we use what we've got."
Then in Perth in front of 10,776 fans at the Perth Arena, the Wildcats just managed to overcome their recent bogey team with a 73-67 win over the Adelaide 36ers.
The win improves the Wildcats to a 15-5 record in second spot and keeps the pressure on the 18-3 New Zealand Breakers.
At the other end of the table, the loss sends Adelaide to a 6-15 record to be cemented on the bottom having now lost four straight matches, and 12 of its last 13 dating back to a win in Perth way back on November 16 last year.
Despite finishing either last or second last the previous three seasons, the Sixers have had the wood over the Wildcats even though the 'Cats have made two grand finals and a semi-final in that time.
It was another tense and tight battle between the fierce rivals on Friday night as well, but the Wildcats looked to have the win secure leading by 10 points with just over two minutes remaining.
However, Adelaide had one last run and got within three but couldn’t get any closer and blew their last few possessions to hand Perth the win.
Wildcats big man Matt Knight finished with 21 points with Kevin Lisch adding 15 and Jesse Wagstaff 14. Greg Hire collected a career-best 14 rebounds.
Coach Rob Beveridge knows that at no stage was what his team did out there pretty to get the win, but he feels it will hold them in good stead for the playoffs.
"That was one of the ugliest performances I've ever coached. I'm exhausted as a coach after that because you work so hard and then let them back in. We were up by 10 and the way we coughed that ball up with a lack of poise was really frustrating," Beveridge said.
"They are a damned good team and I know that if they play with that intensity and physicality all the time they would be a playoff team.
"That was tremendous for us to play that type of game because it was ugly and unfortunately when it becomes playoff time, that's how a lot of the games are going to be. We got through it, took care of that and we have to learn from it."
Adelaide seven-footer Daniel Johnson finished with a game-high 22 points. Stephen Weigh scored 11 points, Jason Cadee 10 and Anthony Petrie 10 to go with seven rebounds.
Coach Marty Clarke felt the Sixers did a pretty good job in most areas of the game on Friday, but some crucial turnovers and too many offensive boards coughed up proved costly.
"We didn’t turn it over much and we only had 12 turnovers, but there were a couple of crucial ones that allowed momentum to swing back their way. We have spoken a lot in the last week or so about being able to make critical plays," Clarke said.
"Most people think that is making big shots, but often it's more about having the ability to be composed when the pressure is coming and making the right play. I just thought there were a couple of soft turnovers that allowed them to get on a mini run. We also gave them too many second shots.
"To give up 15 offensive boards in the first half was unacceptable. It's about not playing hard enough for quite long enough."
Round 18 of the 2012-13 NBL season continues on Saturday with the Sydney Kings hosting the New Zealand Breakers and the Townsville Crocs taking on the Cairns Taipans in a Reptile Rumble at The Swamp.