Melbourne United down Cairns Taipans, extend NBL lead

Melbourne United have maintained their place at the top of the NBL ladder after defeating the Cairns Taipans 79-68 in the Australian Open clash on Wednesday night.

The first NBL match to be played at Hisense Arena during the grand slam tennis event started as a low-scoring affair but import Casper Ware's 24 points ensured the home fans went home happy.

After winning four of five away games since Boxing Day, the AO match served as a happy homecoming for United as they registered their ninth win in their past 10 games.

Josh Boone added 13 points and nine rebounds while Tai Wesley (12 points) and Chris Goulding (11 points) made solid contributions.

The Taipans shot a miserable 20 per cent from the field in the first half and struggled to convert second-chance opportunities, despite pulling down 24 offensive rebounds.

Mitch McCarron (16 points) and Alex Loughton (11 points) lifted Cairns in the second half but the loss left them well adrift of fourth spot.

Both sides took time to adjust to the open-air conditions but after McCarron's first three-pointer gave Cairns a narrow lead, David Barlow answered with a triple and United went on an 11-1 run to close out the first quarter to lead by eight points.

Ware found his range from outside to extend Melbourne's lead early in the second quarter and while the visitors hung tough, missed shots continued to haunt them, with Goulding's first three-pointer of the night sending the home side into halftime ahead 35-25.

United import Carrick Felix thrilled the crowd in his home debut with a thunderous one-handed dunk early in the third but Cairns closed the gap to four points when Wesley picked up his fourth foul on a Nnanna Egwu basket.

Goulding and Boone kept the offence ticking for the home side but the Taipans stayed in touch at the final change.

Scoochie Smith closed the gap to two points early in the final term but an Egwu foul after Boone's lay-up handed possession back to United and Ware drilled a three-pointer to give his side breathing space.

Ware secured a steal and nailed another triple to push the margin out to eight with less than three minutes to play.

United's next game is at the improving Sydney Kings on Sunday while the Taipans travel to face the Illawarra Hawks.