Round 10 of the 2013/14 NBL season got underway with the two matches on Friday night beginning with the league-leading Wildcats beating the three-time defending champion New Zealand Breakers 71-62 at Vector Arena before the Cairns Taipans won a Reptile Rumble at Cairns Convention Centre over the Townsville Crocodiles 87-74.
The action began at Auckland's Vector Arena with the grand finalists of the last two seasons doing battle for the third time already in the 2013/14 campaign even before the halfway mark.
And it was once again the Wildcats who got the job done winning by nine points in a scrappy affair that improves them to a 12-1 record heading into the break now over Christmas with a handy lead over the rest of the league.
For the Breakers, it was a third straight loss to see them fall to a 4-9 record to be eight games behind the Wildcats already and with three more losses than the fourth-ranked Melbourne Tigers.
It also means that Perth has beaten New Zealand all three times this season already, twice in Auckland and once in Perth, but the Breakers only have to think back to the fact that they have beaten the Wildcats in the last three finals campaigns on their way to a three-peat of NBL titles.
The Breakers, though, will need to pull something special out in the second half of the season just to make the finals. However, if they are able to do that then nobody would like to face them come playoff time – particularly a Perth team that has been unable to beat them for three straight years.
It was the Wildcats who controlled Friday's contest from the outset holding the home team to just eight points and 62 for the night.
The Wildcats led 49-33 at the half, but the Breakers came out inspired after half-time hitting the first nine points to close the Wildcats' lead to just seven before both teams went through a four-minute scoring drought.
James Ennis eventually nailed one free-throw to break that drought and give Perth its first point of the half almost seven minutes into the third quarter, and that was enough to steady the visitors with New Zealand simply unable to put the ball in the basket down the other end.
It was far from pretty at any stage but Ennis top-scored for the Wildcats again with 16 points while big man Matt Knight continued to find some form after an injury-interrupted start to the season with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Shawn Redhage added 12 points and five rebounds for the Wildcats also with captain Damian Martin finishing with 11 points, six boards, two steals and a massive blocked shot on a driving Corey Webster.
Mika Vukona worked tirelessly yet again for the Breakers finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds with Tom Abercrombie adding 15 points and six boards.
Point guard Kerron Johnson had decent numbers with 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals but again lacked the composure needed under pressure – precisely what championship point guards Cedric Jackson and Kevin Braswell have had in the last three years for New Zealand.
Meanwhile in Cairns, the Taipans won their second straight match following a dismal seven-game losing run to improve to a 4-7 record and remain in touch with the top-four by beating the Crocs at home by 13 points.
Cairns controlled the contest all night and ended up cruising to the win but both teams need to back-up again this weekend with the Taipans playing the 36ers in Adelaide on Sunday, and the Crocodiles hosting Melbourne on Saturday night.
Power forward Cam Tragardh had a terrific night for the Taipans against the team he began his NBL career with finishing with a game-high 24 points on a supremely efficient 11-of-16 shooting from the field.
Cameron Gliddon also added 15 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Snakes while Clint Steindl was impressive with 10 points, five boards and four assists including a massive put-back slam in the opening period.
Captain Alex Loughton added eight points and six rebounds for Cairns while point guard Jamar Wilson had eight points and Stephen Weigh eight on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from the floor.
Brian Conklin top-scored for a Townsville line-up without its skipper Russell Hinder finishing with 15 points.
Josh Pace, Steve Markovic and Jacob Holmes all scored 10 points apiece with Peter Crawford adding nine while collecting nine rebounds in his best performance of the season after it was slow to start due to injury.