STORY OF THE WEEK
"WHEN you come to a fork in the road, take it!"
Yogi Berra, the legendary New York Yankees catcher, was famous for more than a few mangled aphorisms, even if he never actually said most of them.
For Melbourne United, they came to a fork in the road of their National Basketball League, and, thankfully for their fans, set the right course.
It's been that kind of season for the Melbourne franchise, one that says basketball is - to borrow another Yogi-ism - "90% mental and the other half is physical".
At the turn of the year, the Team Formerly Known As The North-South-East Victoria Melbourne Tigers Magic Giants Titans Saints had threatened to become the most overrated squad this side of cricket's Big Bash Melbourne Stars.
All that offensive firepower and only one ball.
All those expectations, a new coach, and a middling record that had United just battling to keep pace with the top four.
But with the NBL in the home stretch of the regular season now, and with playoffs looming on the horizon, Melbourne is sitting pretty in top spot, one-and-a-half games clear of Adelaide, who by dropping a game to the lowly Brisbane Bullets, also managed to once again prove the sheer unpredictability of this season.
Throughout the 2017/18 campaign, the league has proved time and again its ability to provide surprises where the expectation was for the mundane, for the status quo to prevail. And once again, some surprising results further proved this, where even the league's cellar dwellers are more than capable of giving the contenders a real scare.
Just three rounds remain to shore up playoff positions, play for pride, or in some cases, both. For Brisbane, throwing a wrench into Adelaide's superlative form was nothing if not satisfying.
The Bullets won't play in the postseason but they can still be an irritating presence in the run-up, providing more than just nuisance value to teams looking to stabilise for finals action. However, for the Sydney Kings, to use another Yogi-ism, playing Melbourne United is like déjà vu all over again.
The Kings have played United without success for the past seven games, the latest a 93-76 result at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday that had the perennially frustrated Andrew Gaze yet again lamenting his team's decision-making.
Make an error once and it becomes a lesson, repeat the same error again and again and it turns into something of a choice.
In the space of 40 minutes the Kings went a good way to erasing the good work from the previous round where they slayed Perth both at home and away.
Sydney, to employ one, final Yogi quote, simply made too many wrong mistakes.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Casper Ware (MEL) - The livewire playmaker has been in superlative form of late at both ends of the court and Round 16 was an exclamation point. Poured in 24 points and dished out five assists against Cairns to open the round and then quarterbacked Melbourne United to a 93-76 road win over Sydney on Sunday with 20 points, four assists, two boards and two steals.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
G: Casper Ware (MEL) - See above.
G: Bryce Cotton (PER) - Led the Wildcats to their first home win in four attempts with a sublime 27 points, six boards, six assists, two blocks and a steal against fellow top-four aspirants New Zealand.
G/F: Perrin Buford (BNE) - Kept the Bullets afloat against an opening quarter barrage from the 36ers then hit consecutive triples in a crucial third quarter run that handed the Bullets the ascendancy. Finished with 24 points, five rebounds and two assists in a surprise win.
F: JP Tokoto (PER) - Benched by coach Trevor Gleeson after the Wildcats slew of slow starts, Tokoto responded by cramming 14 points, 5 boards, 5 assists, 2 blocks and a steal into 32 high-octane minutes.
C: Josh Boone (MEL) - The quiet assassin. Ware, Carrick Felix (and Casey Prather) and Chris Goulding all tend to be mentioned before Melbourne's workhorse but United would be lost without their anchor in the middle. Had a tidy 13 points and nine boards against the Snakes and then exploded for 22 points (18 in the first half) and 13 rebounds against the Kings.
WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
With both teams jockeying for home court advantage in the playoffs, Perth in a crucial home/away series against the Adelaide 36ers promises to be the mouth-watering double highlight of Round 17.