After a slow start to the season with just four wins from the opening two games with a change of import coming in that period as well, the Tigers have now strung together six impressive victories to improve to a 10-6 record to be well clear of the 6-9 Taipans in fourth place.
The Perth Wildcats remain on top of the ladder with a 12-3 record but have now lost two straight matches on the road to Cairns and Wollongong.
The Adelaide 36ers are just one game further back with an 11-4 record but the Tigers now are in contention for a top-two spot and well and truly cemented in third position as they return to being a genuine championship contender for the first time since losing the 2008/09 grand final series to the now defunct South Dragons.
The Tigers have not made the playoffs the last four NBL seasons nor looked likely for the most part.
Both the Tigers and Taipans entered Sunday's clash at The Cage in hot form with Melbourne on a five-game winning streak and Cairns having won four of its last five to move up into fourth position.
Even though the Tigers skipped away to a five-point lead by quarter-time, the visitors caught fire during the second period and had managed to hold a 34-31 lead at the main break.
With veteran Adam Ballinger on fire, Melbourne took control of the contest in the third quarter outscoring Cairns 21 points to 12, and then controlling the final period 24 points to 20 as well to secure the 10-point victory.
Even though Cairns dominated on the glass even without the injured Cam Tragardh with 35 rebounds 26, the Taipans couldn’t take care of the ball at all well enough with 16 turnovers and from that, the Tigers scored 12 points.
Ballinger was the star of the afternoon for the Tigers with 19 points on the back of 8-of-13 shooting from the field, and 3-of-4 from three-point territory.
The NBL's leading scorer Chris Goulding added 18 points and three assists with Mustapha Farrakhan scoring 14 points and collecting three rebounds.
Mark Worthington also had 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Cairns point guard Jamar Wilson top-scored for his side with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Clint Steindl added 12 points for the Taipans and centre Matt Burston 11 to go with nine rebounds.
Cairns big men Burston and Mitch Young combined for eight of the 16 turnovers though.
Round 13 of the NBL gets underway with two matches on Friday night with the Melbourne Tigers hosting the New Zealand Breakers, and the Perth Wildcats taking on the Townsville Crocodiles at the Perth Arena.
The Cairns Taipans then host the Wollongong Hawks on Saturday night while on Sunday, the Adelaide 36ers host the Sydney Kings and the Crocs and Wildcats both make the quick trip across the country to back up from Friday and back up again in Townsville.