NBL Story of the Week
Melbourne United have overrun opposition teams since overcoming an indifferent -- if not downright rocky -- start to their National Basketball League campaign. Winning 14 of their past 16 games, United have claimed not just the minor premiership but also outright title favouritism, an unthinkable concept little more than two months prior. The transformation has been utterly remarkable.
United's season was looking decidedly wobbly on November 19, having been trounced by the unfathomable scoreline of 91-59 at home by a Perth Wildcats outfit that had all the hallmarks of being once again nigh-on unbeatable (Perth's subsequent struggles since then is a column all of its own). Their performance that night was so vapid, so devoid of spirit and cohesion, that there were genuine concerns over their ability even to make the postseason.
But instead of capitulating to the ranks of the also-rans, United coach Dean Vickerman and his talent-laden squad of heavy artillery didn't blink; they methodically assessed where the faultlines were most prominent (chemistry, shot selection), and repaired the issues.
Interestingly, the biggest question that United face now is how they best use star signing Casey Prather when he recovers fully from the dislocated elbow he suffered against Illawarra Hawks on December 16.
Replacement Carrick Felix has been Swiss Army knife-like in his versatility, doing a little bit of everything, with Friday's home win over the New Zealand Breaks a prime example of his worth.
With United trailing the visitors by as many as 14 points, Felix scored eight points in the second quarter -- including a monster dunk over Tom Abercrombie -- to help to keep the hosts afloat. He finished with 10 points, 11 boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks to again underline his importance to Melbourne's success.
Two days later, United's bench contributed heavily to a second win over New Zealand -- a welcome sign for Melbourne fans but one that would surely be bleak viewing for the remaining playoff-eligible teams.
White-hot form notwithstanding, at times, Melbourne had been frighteningly reliant on their starters so it was indeed a welcome sight for Vickerman to see his reserves -- led by a career-high 13 points from Peter Hooley -- more than hold their own in extended minutes.
How to beat a deep squad that is exceptionally coached and with plenty to prove? Pray they miss.
NBL Player of the Week
Josh Boone (Melbourne United): 'The Quiet American'. Boone -- as his wont -- has quietly made a lot of noise in the league's most valuable player race. Never flashy, Boone once again was the irreplaceable, implacable lynchpin of United's performance at both ends of the floor. In a home-and-away double against the New Zealand Breakers, Boone averaged 17 points and 9.5 rebounds at a highly efficient 65 percent from the field.
NBL Team of the Week
G: Edgar Sosa (New Zealand Breakers): New Zealand couldn't overcome United in two games over the course of Round 18, but that wasn't for lack of trying from Sosa. The Breakers playmaker averaged 23.5 points over the two contests, including a sublime 25-point, eight-assist performance at home.
G: Casper Ware (Melbourne United): His battle with Sosa over the two games was a legitimate highlight within the highlights. He led from the front at home with 26 points and five assists before showing his true worth on the road. Despite missing nine of his 11 attempts, Ware quarterbacked the visitors superbly -- handing out nine assists and ensuring United's first win in Auckland in four years.
G: Cam Gliddon (Cairns Taipans): The Snakes might have been removed from playoff consideration but that hasn't stopped them being more than a minor nuisance. Cairns continued Perth's recent largely insipid run with a stunning 85-83 boilover at Perth Arena, and Gliddon was at the heart of it with five triples -- including the go-ahead basket -- on his way to 19 points and four assists.
F: Daniel Johnson (Adelaide 36ers): The 36ers pivot has struck a rich vein of form this season, and he was again prominent in Round 18. The Pepperdine alum nailed two of his three attempts from international waters on his way to 21 points, eight boards and five assists in a 111-87 demolition of Illawarra.
C: Josh Boone (Melbourne United): See above.
NBL Round 19: What To Look Forward To
With just one round to play in the regular season, all eyes are on playoff matchups. United have locked up top spot but home court advantage can still be had for one of Adelaide, Perth or New Zealand.