The Wellington Saints top the National Basketball League but are doing it the hard way.

The Saints now hold an 8-1 record after coming from behind to beat the Bay Hawks 86-77 in Napier today in another reasonably unconvincing performance in a season full of them.

The defending champions have struggled to put in a dominant showing all season and it continued against a Hawks side missing star centre Angus Brandt and rotation player Everard Bartlett.

With those absences, the Saints were tipped to win easily but once again took a while to get going. They trailed at halftime and didn't look likely for victory when down by 10 points late in the third quarter.


However, the Hawks melted down in the final period, scoring just six points - two of which came with 14 seconds to go - as the Saints came back to claim their eighth straight win.

Once again, Shea Ili - soon to briefly depart for a camp with the NBA's Dallas Mavericks - was the Saints' key performer, scoring 28 points and dishing seven assists, while centre Majok Majok took advantage of Brandt's absence to collect 19 points and 14 rebounds.

Most of the Hawks offence was initiated by Jarrod Kenny, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists, but it wasn't enough as they slipped back to 5-5.

The Hawks remain just outside the top four, with the Canterbury Rams fourth at 5-3, while the Nelson Giants and Southland Sharks are also on significant winning streaks.

The Giants sit just behind the Saints at 8-2, having won their last five, while the Sharks have won all their last five by more than 20 points to sit at 7-2.