The race for this season’s minor premiership is heating up. Three contenders have emerged from the pack, with the Perth Wildcats, Melbourne United and the Illawarra Hawks dropping the New Zealand Breakers, who are left to battle it out with Adelaide for the fourth and final playoff spot.
We know finishing the season in the top two and gaining home court is an advantage, but its importance cannot be understated. Since the NBL started the semi-final system (top four playoff) five seasons ago, the team that finished on top at the end of the regular season went on to win the competition four out of those five times (the Breakers won it from second spot last season). And only once has a grand-finalist come from outside of the top two.
Winning home court has always been a big deal, but it seems to be even more so this season with a 67 percent win rate for the home side. Incredibly, no team in the league has a winning record on the road in this campaign – Perth, Melbourne and Illawarra win at over 80 percent at home and only around 50/50 away.
With that in mind, let’s look at the remaining schedule for these top three teams to gauge which has the best chance of winning that all important minor premiership.
Current record – 15-8
Remaining games – Cairns(H), Melbourne(H), Sydney(H), Sydney(A), Adelaide(H)
Barring injuries, with four games played in the Jungle the Wildcats should win, at a minimum, three of these contests and could very well run the table and win every match. For arguments sake, let’s say they drop one of those games, that’ll give them a 19-9 record for the season.
Illawarra – 14-9
Remaining Games – Adelaide(H), Adelaide(A), Melbourne(H), Townsville(H), Adelaide(H)
Last night’s loss to the Wildcats severely dented Illawarra’s hopes of finishing top. Even if they win their remaining five games, it still might not be enough. As a result of losing the series matchup, they need to finish the season one win ahead of the ‘Cats to leapfrog them.
Melbourne – 16-7
Remaining Games – Adelaide(A), Perth(A), Illawarra(A), NZ(A), NZ(H)
Look at all those away games. Remember when all the talk was about United having an advantage starting the season with so many home games? Well, it doesn’t seem advantageous now. To make matters worse, they have to travel to Wollongong and Perth in must win games.
Adelaide can do Perth a solid by beating United tonight. If Melbourne lose, they can almost kiss the minor premiership goodbye with that gruelling schedule. Fire up 36ers!
Regardless of the result against the Sixers, the Perth Wildcats clash with “the” United next Friday night will go a long way in determining top spot. If Perth can win, they’re almost assured of gaining the ever crucial home court advantage.
Of course, they’ll first need to take care of business on Monday night against the Cairns Taipans and their bevy of Western Australian players. The Wildcats are a lock to qualify for a 30th straight postseason appearance, a remarkable achievement, but to make it a successful postseason, gaining the top spot is paramount.
As always stay tuned, we’ll know more next week.