The Perth Wildcats continue to confound their detractors with two important victories over the weekend to close the gap on the ladder-leading Sydney Kings.
The second-placed Wildcats entered round 10 on a two-match losing skid and faced the prospect of falling back to the pack with the red-hot Kings coming to Perth.
But the Wildcats once again demonstrated their championship credentials with a record-setting offensive display on Friday night to blast the NBL title favourites before flying to Melbourne and earning their second win in three days.
Coach Trevor Gleeson was quick to take aim at critics keen to count out his squad as they strive to extend their remarkable record for playoff berths to a 34th consecutive season.
"That's normal, isn't it?" Gleeson said after Sunday's 108-98 win over the South East Melbourne Phoenix.
"I think three years ago you were writing us off and we finished up winning a championship, then last year it was 'oh yeah, they haven't got three imports, they're gone'.
"We get used to you guys over here on the east mate, we'll just keep doing what we're doing."
But Perth were forced to dig deep on Sunday against a Phoenix side looking to consolidate their place in the top four with inspirational leader Mitch Creek setting a new career-high mark of 31 points.
"There's always built-in excuses on the road when you've played Friday night and it takes a good effort to get a win on the road on a back-to-back, especially a team being here for a week ready for you," Gleeson said.
Perth outscored the Phoenix 64-47 after halftime with Bryce Cotton (26 points, 15 in the third quarter) and Terrico White (19 points, 13 in the fourth quarter) leading the charge.
"You've got I'd say the two best closers up there in the NBL right now in Bryce and Terrico," Clint Steindl said, the reserve forward playing his part by averaging 15 points a game over the two wins.
"They've shown it over and over again so when we're running something and we're pushed out of it, we know we can count on those guys, put the ball in their hands and they're going to make a play for themselves or they can make plays for everyone else as well."
South East Melbourne coach Simon Mitchell was left in no doubt about the quality of their opponents after witnessing Perth reel in his side's seven-point third-quarter lead.
"That's why they are the defending champs," Mitchell said. "I can't believe these chumps who have been writing them off - seriously, they are really good."
Australian Associated Press