Melbourne United flirted with form and now they must pick up their game for the NBL playoffs after a thrilling 70-68 home loss to soon-to-be semifinal opponents New Zealand Breakers on Sunday.
United faced the Breakers in Auckland on Friday and, with the minor premiership already secured, decided to rest three key players, copping a 100-63 hammering.
But even with a full hand on deck at Hisense Arena they couldn't topple the defending champions, who they meet again on Thursday at Hisense Arena in the opening game on their best-of-three semifinal series.
The area they most need a lift is on the boards, where they allowed New Zealand to pull in 14 offensive rebounds to five, helping the Breakers to 10 extra field-goal attempts and leaving Melbourne coach Dean Demopoulos with a puzzle to solve.
"It's something that hasn't been a strength of ours from the beginning of the year. When you meet a team like that at this time of the year, that's something they're very good at and we're not," he said.
"If we don't get better at it we can't expect a different result. I just think they're better rebounders than us right now."
Melbourne's deficiency on the glass was most evident on the decisive play of the game. With scores tied at 68, United's defence forced three misses, but each time the Breakers recovered the rebound until Tai Wesley scored the match-winning basket with 5.4 seconds to play.
"We built this team on rebounding and defence, and it's pleasing that those identities are shining through when we need them," Breakers coach Dean Vickerman said.
New Zealand's title defence looked down and out after six straight losses from New Year's Eve, but they now ride into the post-season on a five-game winning run to look ominously like the team that has won four of the past five championships.
Tai Wesley led the way for the Breakers with 23 points including the game-winning basket, his interior play posing United serious questions.
"Wesley was just a monster tonight in the block, they didn't really have an answer for him," Vickerman said.
"They didn't really have an answer for him the other night, and tonight I thought he showed great composure and made great decisions."
Mika Vukona (10 points, 10 rebounds) was next best for the visitors, who were without leading scorer Corey Webster.
For Melbourne, Chris Goulding showed he will also be a handful in the playoffs, showing off his array of moves en route to 22 points, supported by Daniel Kickert with 16.
The teams semifinal series commences at Hisense Arena on Thursday before heading to Auckland's Vector Arena on Saturday evening.
If a game three is required it will be in Melbourne the following weekend.
"We're excited as hell to have the opportunity to play against a dynasty," Demopoulos said.
"Four out of five (championships) where I come from is a dynasty, that doesn't happen very often. It's something I've probably thought about from the beginning of the year."