NBL Rebound: Time for Melbourne United to prove themselves contenders

STORY OF THE WEEK

A long time ago, a basketball coach was once heard to utter, "there's only two great plays, South Pacific, and put the ball in the basket!"

For Melbourne United, their National Basketball League campaign has more than proved the latter part of that statement.

For all-too-brief periods, United have shown flashes of their potentially explosive offensive talents.

But more often it hasn't been pretty, indeed, there have been games where putting the ball in the basket looked positively difficult, if not downright impossible.

Injuries, indifferent form, chemistry, superior opposition - all these factors contributed to a less than dynamic record, especially one for a team with as much talent as Melbourne possess.

But over the past few rounds, the Melbourne franchise has struck a, if not rich, then at the very least an upper middle-class vein of form - albeit with a large caveat.

After losing to Cairns on December 9, United has run off six straight wins and has roared to within percentage points of the top of the NBL table, all without star signing Casey Prather, who suffered a dislocated elbow against Illawarra on December 16, the first victory of the winning streak.

The latest triumph, a come-from-behind affair on the road over the Hawks on Saturday night showed United's ability to take a team's best punch and keep its feet.

Melbourne trailed by as many as 18 points in the third quarter and was still nine points in arrears as the final period got underway.

But some clutch play from Prather's replacement Carrick Felix (19 points, 10 rebounds) at both ends of the floor saw the visitors close out a crucial road win.

It was a big victory in the context of the season, with Felix and fellow starters Chris Goulding (22 points), Tai Wesley (12 points, 9 boards), Casper Ware (12 points, 5 assists) and Josh Boone (11 points, 8 rebounds) all contributing heavily.

Reserve forward Craig Moller was the only other offensive contributor with three points, such was the dominance of United's starters.

And that large caveat?

United is yet to play either Perth or New Zealand in that winning streak.

But with perfect timing, Melbourne faces up to both perennial contenders over the next two rounds.

And just to really provide a proper litmus test of United's new-found championship credentials, both games are on the road.

Time to find out if Melbourne really is ready for prime time or if the curtain comes crashing down.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Daniel Johnson (ADL) - He's been the subject of much frustration and derision from Adelaide fans but the 212cm centre put the 36ers on his back over the weekend. Johnson started the round in solid fashion, tallying 19 points and nine rebounds in the home win over Perth on Thursday. But Johnson had even more in store, monstering the Brisbane Bullets on Sunday for 24 points, 11 boards, and three assists in a big overtime road win, including two clutch free throws in the final seconds of regulation that knotted the scores and forced the extra period.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

G: Bryce Cotton (PER) - Averaged 22 points and 4.5 assists per game over the round as the Wildcats split a pair of road games. Was especially clutch late in the win over Sydney after the Kings had roared back in the final quarter.

G: Chris Goulding (MEL) - Helped trigger United's sixth straight win, nailing five shots from international waters on his way to a team-high 22 points.

F: Mitch Creek (ADL) - The 36ers skipper sparked them again, tallying 21 points on just five baskets, as his ability to get to the free-throw line and convert (11-13) proved crucial in Adelaide's impressive win over Perth on Thursday night. Backed that up with 6 points and 9 rebounds in the 36ers' overtime triumph over the Bullets on Sunday

F: Carrick Felix (MEL) - Clutch play at both ends in the fourth quarter of a crucial road game? Check. Can't ask more from an injury replacement import in only his second game for the team.

C: Daniel Johnson (ADL) - As mentioned above, Johnson had been struggling to produce the performances Adelaide fans were after, but in round 13 he made the impact everyone had been after. Tallying 19 points and nine rebounds against Perth, and then 24 points and three assists against the Bullets, Johnson stepped up for the 36ers.