STORY OF THE WEEK
For 32 consecutive seasons, the Perth Wildcats have been the only constant in the NBL playoffs.
Thirty two seasons.
The last time the Wildcats missed the postseason, Larry Bird was the reigning MVP of the NBA, Crocodile Dundee had only just been released, and Perth stalwart Damian Martin was just two years old.
It's the greatest finals streak in Australian sport.
And while it's not yet in mortal peril, it's rapidly approaching thin ice territory.
Notwithstanding Sunday's enormous 84-79 win over reigning champions Melbourne United at RAC Arena, the usually ruthless Wildcats have looked shockingly vulnerable over the recent going.
Remember, Perth opened the season by winning 10 of their first 11 games to have everyone pencilling them in for yet another playoff berth and outright title favouritism.
But the fall since that white-hot start has been brutal thanks to an always-dangerous combination of injuries to key players and a loss of cohesion and defensive intensity.
Going into the crucial contest against United, Perth had lost seven of their past eight games, a run so mediocre it had caused the 'Cats to slip from a dominant position atop the standings to a distant third and falling.
And while the Wildcats came out firing to open a 16-point lead in the first half, there's now a fleshy underbelly to Perth that opposition teams have been all too willing to attack over the past eight weeks.
Sure enough, while it took until the final three minutes, United made a run. First Mitch McCarron and then savvy veteran David Barlow hit big shots to haul the visitors back to within just the solitary point.
However Perth exhaled when Casper Ware missed a potential go-ahead layup and the Wildcats grimly hung on to keep their top-two hopes alive.
Reigning MVP Bryce Cotton was spectacular on his way to 27 points, while the ever-active Nick Kay added 18 points and 14 rebounds, with eight of his boards coming at the offensive end.
Incredibly, it was Perth's first home victory since December 9. Not to put too fine a point on it, but even the last-placed Cairns Taipans have enjoyed better form at home of late.
Perth's run home -- two games against Sydney and Adelaide, a potential banana-skin game against Illawarra, and Melbourne on the road to finish -- looked a lot easier eight weeks ago when the Wildcats were riding high.
The win over United -- who still have their own consistency issues despite their comeback win over Cairns last week -- steadied some nerves, but it's only the beginning of what is going to be a nerve-wracking run to the finish line.
The weight of Wildcats expectations are only exceeded by the weight of history. At some point, something has to give.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Nathan Sobey (ADL) - With the 36ers playoff chances needing a boost, Sobey stepped up to help guide Adelaide to a pair of big wins. A well-rounded performance of 11 points, seven boards, and nine assists quarterbacked the 36ers to a solid 97-84 win over Perth to open Round 14. Backed that up with 16 points, five rebounds, and eight assists to record a resounding 119-99 victory over Sydney on the road and keep Adelaide firmly in the postseason hunt.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
G: Melo Trimble (CNS) - Was kept relatively quiet in the Snakes' big loss to intra-state rivals Brisbane with 23 points and three assists. Bounced back in a big way however, with 32 points, five boards, and five assists as the Taipans triumphed over New Zealand in overtime and almost certainly snuffed out the Breakers' playoff hopes.
G: Nathan Sobey (ADL) - See above
G: Bryce Cotton (PER) - Dropped a game-high 27 points - including five splashes from beyond the arc - to ensure the Wildcats steadied a very shaky ship with a gritty win over Melbourne United at home.
F: Brian Conklin (ILL) - With 20 points, four rebounds, and four assists, Conklin combined perfectly with Todd Blanchfield (27 points, 7 rebounds) to barely keep pace with the Breakers for three quarters before running them down in the final quarter to record a 107-96 win.
C: Shawn Long (NZB) - Cooled off a little after an incandescent stretch of form but was still awfully solid, averaging 18.5 points and 7.5 boards for the round. Problem is, the Breakers lost both games to Illawarra and Cairns to almost certainly be eliminated from playoff contention.
WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
The last two games of the round are the spicy meatballs of what is a hefty meal of matchups. On Sunday afternoon, the league-leading Sydney Kings play host to Perth, while the following public holiday evening Adelaide takes on the visiting Melbourne United at Titanium Security Arena. Ramifications and playoff permutations are in abundance as we approach the pointy end of the season.