Their home a fortress, the Hawke's Bay basketballers have slowly but surely worked their way up to the top of the competition table after another victory yesterday.
The IMS Payroll-sponsored team are undefeated at the Pettigrew-Green Arena in Napier after five matches and have two victories on the road at their halfway stage of the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL).
Yesterday's 72-61 arm wrestle over the Advice First Waikato Pistons in Hamilton showed the Tab Baldwin-coached Hawks are definitely paving a well-lit pathway to the playoffs in July.
"We came here to win and we got it," Baldwin said from the Hamilton Boys' High School gym last night, mindful his troops weren't getting too far ahead of themselves based on the fact some teams have played fewer than the Hawks' nine games.
"The results can change and it's still pretty tight," the multi-NBL title-winning coach said as the Hawks took care of business without captain Paora Winitana, a Mormon bishop who doesn't play on Sundays because of his religious beliefs.
Despite Baldwin treading on egg shells, the reality is any of his counterparts will trade places with him in the blink of an eye during a stage of a season when back-to-back matches have tested the endurance, stamina and fortitude of players and coaches.
The Hawks had returned from a gruelling double-header from the Deep South and then eked out a nail-biting victory over the relentless Canterbury Rams at the PG Arena in Taradale on Friday night.
This Friday the doors to Cowles Stadium, Christchurch, beckon then it's a dash back to PG Arena on Saturday for a 7pm tip off in what should be a humdinger against first-round winners Wellington Saints.
Yesterday there was nothing between the Hawks and the Pero Cameron-coached Waikato in the first three quarters.
A point and two favouring the hosts in the first two spells, the visitors drew level, 45-45, at the end of the third quarter for a final 10-minute dust-up.
The Hawks turned it up, finishing with a don't-argue 27-16 in the last quarter as Baldwin pointed out his men found little love from the hoop.
"We played well offensively but our shots were just not falling in."
Conversely the Pistons hustled well, building up traffic in the claustrophobic shooting lanes and showing road rage at any Hawks who dared to encroach the exit lane or even implied there should be give-way signs.
Baldwin lauded Waikato captain Casey Frank and his players in forcing the Hawks to chance their arms from outside the perimeter.
"Paora wasn't there today so our defence won the day for us.
"A good basketball team always has to find a way to win so our defence came to the rescue."
The Hawks tend to rely on their jump shooters, primarily Everard Bartlett - who toiled against the odds in the first half - Winitana, point guard Jarrod Kenny and apprentice point guard Marco Alexander but yesterday the two American imports, Dustin Scott and Kareem Johnson, delivered with aplomb.
"Dustin and Kareem rebounded on the court ... They did all the dirty work ... ," he said of the pair who feature in the top-five "index of success".
Scott, who sits seven points behind Nelson Giants' ex-Hawk Josh Pace in the index, racked up a game-high 27 points and 16 rebounds, including four from five outside the arc, for yet another double-double while Johnson, fourth on the index, failed to emulate his feat by one in each department.
Bartlett claimed 14 points and five assists and Kenny contributed 10 points and four steals while Alexander provided 10 points for the collective off the bench.
Baldwin pointed out the Hawks did a great hatchet job on Pistons import guard Corin Henry, limiting him to six points, 10 assists and five steals.
Jack Salt 14pts, 11 rebounds; Akeem Wright 12pts, 13 reb; Casey Frank 11pts, 10 reb joined the double-double club while Zac Carter chimed in with 12pts, six rebounds.
Waikato will rue their 21 turnovers to Hawks' 12.
Baldwin said his bench, coming off poorer, 20-12, was young but had a lot of talent.
On Friday, Taranaki upset the Nuggets 86-84 and the Saints pipped the Giants 81-77. On Saturday, the Saints lost 85-83 and the Jets eclipsed the Rams 108-101.