The Hawks aren't playing cat-and-mouse games to ward rivals off their scent, according to coach Zico Coronel.
"You try to use the time that you have to make as many improvements as you can because it's not like an endurance sport, like marathon, where you're trying to preserve your legs and your body to hit a physiological state at the right time," said Coronel after the Taylor Corporation Hawks came from behind to beat 2 Cheap Cars Supercity Rangers in their 93-84 victory in Napier on Saturday.
His remarks came in the Sal's National Basketball League after it seemed the Jarrod Kenny-captained hosts made hard work of reeling in the last-placed Rangers in week eight of matches at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale.
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The teams that make those incremental improvements each week will find themselves in contention for the NBL crown.
"We're not trying to play poorly on purpose, or anything like that, for later. You know, if we continue like that there'll be no later so you have to get to the playoffs because it's not a given for anyone," he said, pointing out Sit Zerofees Southland Sharks had lost 89-77 to the Wheeler Motor Canterbury Rams on Friday in Invercargill after losing 96-92 to Mike Pero Nelson Giants the night before.
Coronel said it would have been great for the Hawks to win by a bigger margin but it wasn't about the points as much as it was about performing better with the Final Four playoffs beckoning.
"Tonight's performance probably doesn't reflect that well enough. There were times that you could lose but think that you played quite well and then there were other times when we probably didn't perform so well."
While their fifth place on the NBL ladder remained unchallenged, he said it was vital to acknowledge the Aucklanders had decent firepower.
The Rangers scored and defended well but it went up and down a little towards the end.
Coronel said against Cigna Wellington Saints the sluggish start was "pretty minimal" but agreed they needed to start the game with more intent after trailing by 11 points in the first quarter.
The hosts cranked it up in the second and third quarters before closing the visitors out in the final spell.
Coronel said the Hawks had trained really well last week and it was good for the fans to see them put it out there on the court.
"It'll be much more enjoyable for them and less taxing on the emergency department and cardiac unit at the Bay hospital and, hopefully, we'll come to understand that."
He said the on-loss Saints captured the attention of Hawks more than the one-win from 10 games Rangers and, perhaps, a level of subconscious complacency had set in on Saturday.
"You know, the stretch of games just won't be given to us because we'll still have to earn every victory," he said as the Hawks host Taranaki Mountainairs in a 5pm tip off this Saturday.
He felt the Airs were, arguably, the best-coached team in the league and brought the challenges of playing against a "grinding team".
Coach Jeff Green agreed wins were proving to be elusive for the Rangers this season but when his troops fought the way they had for 95 per cent of the match he couldn't fault them.
"That's the way our season's gone all year so it's just that little 5 per cent's missing and I don't what that is," said Green, taking his hat off to his players for the way they had handled themselves on the road and how they had defended.
"There was a minute where Angus Brandt showed everyone how big he was and how small we were so that's the game of basketball because once they get us on the half-court game then we're really bad because we're too small."
Coronel agreed double-double centre Brandt and US import Jamie Skeen, who scored a match-high 25 points, had got inside to work some magic in tandem.
"There probably really three genuine fives [No 5 or centres] in our league with [Alex] Pledger, [Majok] Majok and Angus so if you have one of them on the court and the other team doesn't then it can be very hard to defend the other person," he said, emphasising the Hawks had felt that difference with Brandt away playing for the ANBL All Stars and Majok took charge for the Saints.
Coronel said Dominique Kelman-Poto was impressive as a rookie and would be one to watch in years to come.
He agreed the Hawks' rebounding was poor in the first half but they had made amends in the second but they needed to pull themselves up from high 60s to the mid-seventies per cent.
With two more games to play against the Hawks, Green said the Rangers knew what to do with Brandt but it was imperative they kept the ball moving fast and claimed rebounds.
He agreed the scoring system at the PG Arena was frustrating, which led to stoppages.
"Unfortunately you have the worst stats team in the league and they are known for it so we can't do much about it."
Green said the game had given the crowd good entertainment despite the All Blacks v France match kicking off at 7.30pm on Saturday.