Basketball: Intriguing final round in ANBL

Damian Martin and Jesse Wagstaff of the Wildcats contest a rebound against the Breakers. Photo / Getty Images.
Damian Martin and Jesse Wagstaff of the Wildcats contest a rebound against the Breakers. Photo / Getty Images.

Perth Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson denies giving up on the NBL minor premiership despite omitting skipper Damian Martin and fellow stars Nathan Jawai and Jermaine Beal for the final round clash with Sydney Kings.

The Wildcats (17-9) go into an intriguing round in second place, one win behind leaders Melbourne United (18-8).

Home court advantage through the finals is the precious prize on offer for the minor premiers.

However the Wildcats need to win both their remaining games this week and also have Melbourne lose both of their battles with the New Zealand Breakers in order to snatch top spot because United beat them 3-1 head to head this season.

Gleeson said he opted against taking Martin (ankle sprain) and Jawai and Beal (both back tightness) to Sydney to face the lowly-ranked Kings (5-21) on Wednesday night because his team had to back up four days later against a desperate Adelaide 36ers at home.

"Home-court advantage is massive for us and we are still striving to get that (in the finals) even though it's out of hands to an extent," Gleeson said.

"We have the confidence those guys (coming in) can get the job done for us in Sydney.

"We just have to control what we do."

For the Wildcats, controlling what they do means managing their stars - and with swingman Casey Prather also on the injured list, Gleeson says they have good cause.

"Without question we would have taken them (Jawai, Martin and Beal) if we thought they were right but jumping on a plane for six hours, playing a game, then jumping back on wouldn't help them with a double-header," he said.

"If it was a single game sure, but we felt it would be better to be at full strength on Saturday."

As the Wildcats and Melbourne battle for the top spot only one NBL playoff place is up for grabs going into the final round.

The third-placed Illawarra Hawks (16-11) are also assured of a place in the top four who progress to the semi-finals, leaving the Breakers and Adelaide slugging it out for the last spot.

Adelaide can still finish anywhere between third and fifth and the Breakers can finish fourth or fifth.

Adding to the drama, both the 36ers and Breakers have a couple of formidable final round fixtures.

The Breakers face pacesetters Melbourne home (Friday) and away (Sunday), but Adelaide have things just as tough with road games against the Hawks (Friday) and Wildcats (Sunday).

Adelaide's hopes hinge on the health of star import guard Jerome Randle, who has missed the last two fixtures - both losses - with a knee injury.

The 36ers are leaving a decision on Randle until just before the team flies out on Thursday but he has hinted he'll be back.

How the NBL Finals contenders stack up and where they could finish

1. Melbourne United
Best finish: 1st. Worst finish: 2nd

One more win in either game against the Breakers will guarantee them first place, earning them home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Can still finish first if they lose both games this round if Perth don't win twice.

2. Perth Wildcats
Best finish: 1st. Worst finish: 2nd

Can only finish first if they win both games in the final round and Melbourne lose both of theirs. Have lost the season series to Melbourne 1-3 so must finish one win more to take top spot.

3.Illawarra Hawks
Best finish: 3rd. Worst finish: 4th

A win against Adelaide on Thursday would secure them third place. Have lost their season series to Perth 0-4 so cannot reach any higher than third. Will drop to fourth if Adelaide win both their games - including defeating the Hawks on Thursday - regardless of how many wins the Breakers have.

4. New Zealand Breakers
Best finish: 4th. Worst finish: 5th

The Breakers cannot get to third even if they finish on the same wins as the Hawks because they lost the head to head v Illawarra 0-4. If they finish on 15 wins and the 36ers also finish on 15 wins, the Breakers will finish 4th as they have the season head-to-head series against Adelaide. Can still make the finals if they lose both their games if Adelaide also lose both of theirs.

5. Adelaide 36ers
Best finish: 3rd. Worst finish: 5th

If Adelaide win both their final round games, they will finish third on the ladder regardless of other results due to having head-to-head over the Hawks. They cannot make the playoffs if they don't win at least one game this week.

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