STORY OF THE WEEK
The old adage "a week is a long time" was never more apt.
Once again, the form guide went completely out the window in Round 15 of the National Basketball League.
And of course, right at the pointy end, are the indomitable Perth Wildcats.
Written off by many -- including this column -- the perennial contenders stood tall when it mattered most and reeled off a pair of big wins to move back into the top-two and erase a whole lot of doubt about their playoff credentials.
By defeating first Adelaide and then Sydney (on the road, no less) by a combined 39 points, the Wildcats sent a very clear message that you write them off at your peril.
Now the same questions that were hovering over Perth have moved across the Nullarbor and settled heavily around the Sydney Kings.
Sydney have now dropped three straight games in the previously friendly confines of Qudos Bank Arena, and the 88-68 hammering at the hands of the 'Cats saw the Kings slip to third place in the NBL standings.
A road win over Brisbane two days prior papered over some of the cracks that had started to appear in Sydney's form, which became glaringly evident against the Wildcats, who held the Kings to just 22 points across the second and third quarters.
Such was Sydney's profligacy from the field, they missed 43 of the 69 shots attempted, resulting in only two players -- Jerome Randle and Andrew Bogut -- hitting double digits, with just 11 points apiece.
Meanwhile, Melbourne United started the round as they meant to go on, comfortably taking care of Illawarra to open proceedings before dropping the hammer on the 36ers in a critical, ill-tempered road game to finish this week's slate of games.
It's readily apparent United and the 36ers have a genuine, mutual dislike and a repeat of last year's championship decider would be mouth-watering stuff.
There's been a stop-start nature to the defending champions' title defence that has no doubt been maddeningly frustrating for coach Dean Vickerman and his players.
But to sweep a pair of potential banana-skin games shows United -- just like Perth -- might have turned the consistency corner as well.
Assuming (a dangerous thing right now) all things being equal, the top three should be in some order Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, leaving Brisbane, Adelaide, and Illawarra to fight it out for the final playoff spot. (Yes, the Breakers won both their games this round. No, they still won't make it.)
The Bullets had been the form team of late, but losses to Sydney and then New Zealand has halted their considerable momentum towards the postseason.
Adelaide too have come home with a rush, only to have Perth and Melbourne put a dampener on their playoff surge.
Some tricky games over the final rounds will test coach Joey Wright and his dwindling supply of clipboards.
If Illawarra makes the postseason, they might be time to redo the new NBL City jerseys to read "Steal City", such would be the larcenous nature of a playoff berth.
The Hawks are the Aldi version of Perth, cheaper, and questions over their quality remain, but you do not easily count out Rob Beveridge and his gritty cohort.
With intrigue at every turn and a form guide nigh-on impossible to predict, get set for a wild finish to the regular season over the coming weeks. Just don't expect it to be boring.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Casper Ware (MEL) - Helped pushed United back to the top of the standings with a pair of performances that underlined why he's so dangerous when he's firing. Carried the bulk of the scoring load in the big win over Illawarra with 25 points before switching to a playmaking role against Adelaide to finish with 16 points and nine assists.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
G: Casper Ware (MEL) - See above
G/F: Clint Steindl (PER) - The veteran swingman picked the best possible time to make an impact, helping the Wildcats to a pair of crucial wins. Started with 19 points (4-10 from downtown) in the win over Adelaide, before backing up with a career-high six triples and another 18 points as the 'Cats demolished Sydney on the road.
F: DJ Kennedy (MEL) - The do-everything swingman has been super-impressive of late and was again prominent in both wins for United. Tipped off the round with 17 points, 10 boards, and four dimes before posting a similar statline of 16 points, nine rebounds, and six assists in the curb-stomping of Adelaide.
F: Nick Kay (PER) - Where would Perth be without him? Has been incredibly consistent all season and Round 15 was no exception. Remarkably, had identical scorelines in both wins, with 16 points, 10 boards, and seven assists against both Adelaide and the Kings.
C: Shawn Long (NZB) - The Breakers' behemoth continues to shine, averaging 28.5 points and 8.5 rebounds over the round as New Zealand kept their flickering playoff hopes barely alive with wins over Cairns and Brisbane.
WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
With teams jostling for playoff positions, a home-and-home series between Brisbane and Sydney is the marquee match-up for Round 16. Perth can continue their recent resurgence with a match-up against the Hawks, while Melbourne can end the Breakers' playoff hopes with two games in three days.