Melbourne end Wildcats' top-two NBL hopes

NBL minor premiers Melbourne United have continued on their winning way, defeating Perth 97-85 at home.

Having wrapped up top spot on the ladder with back-to-back wins last round over the New Zealand Breakers, United on Friday night answered every Perth challenge. Melbourne denied the defending champions a top-two finish and home-court advantage in next month's semi-finals.

Chris Goulding landed five three-pointers in his 19-point haul, while Casper Ware also scored 19 points, including a perfect eight-of-eight from the free-throw line.

United import Casey Prather returned after recovering from a dislocated elbow and scored 14 points in 17 minutes on court.

Perth centre Angus Brandt led all scorers with 24 points, with Bryce Cotton hitting five triples in his 19 points and Jean-Pierre Tokoto adding 15.

The Wildcats missed the opportunity to move into third spot after the Breakers earlier on Friday night suffered a shock home loss to the Illawarra Hawks. Perth will need to defeat Cairns on Sunday night at home to avoid a potential match-up with United in the semi-finals.

United started the match slowly before scoring nine-straights points, capped by a Goulding three-pointer, but Perth steadied through Tokoto to take a narrow 11-10 lead.

Melbourne's reserves triggered a 14-4 close to the quarter with Prather, Tohi Smith-Milner and David Barlow all hitting the scoreboard, Smith-Milner's second triple handing United the 24-15 edge at the first change.

Melbourne extended the lead into double-digits early in the second quarter but Cotton and Tokoto kick-started Perth's attack as the visitors inched their way back into the contest.

Wesley and Goulding answered from beyond the arc for the home side, but a Clint Steindl triple cut the gap to two points with nine seconds left in the half.

But Ware thrilled the home fans after his long three-point attempt bounced off the rim and back to the point guard who drained a mid-air heave on the buzzer for a 46-41 lead at halftime.

Goulding opened the second half with a long bomb to push the lead out to eight points but, with Brandt muscling his way to 12 points for the quarter and Cotton landing a pair of three-pointers, Perth moved within striking distance near three-quarter time.

United grabbed the momentum back as Ware hit a jump shot and returning stars Andersen and Prather each hit from long distance to build a 72-65 advantage heading into the final quarter.

Goulding kept the home side rolling in the fourth with two three-pointers to build a 12-point lead.

Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman was pleased with the overall performance but felt his side was happy to trade baskets at times.

"There were times and periods where I thought we floated a little bit," he said.

"I think we have been better in different games where we can just lock down and go on a stretch where we can get three or four stops in a row."

Perth coach Trevor Gleeson felt Melbourne won the game on the three-point line with his side giving up a number of offensive rebounds that led to crucial baskets for United.

"We've got to do a better job," he said of Perth's rebounding and perimeter defence.

"If they hit 14 threes, that's half their score."

United will host the Hawks on Sunday in their final regular-season game at Hisense Arena.