NBL finals picture starting to take shape

STORY OF THE WEEK

AND then there was one.

NBL playoff spot remaining, that is.

Reigning champions Melbourne United, perennial contender Perth, and the resurgent Sydney Kings all booked their spots in the National Basketball League postseason over the course of Round 16.

That they have all done so despite their respective trials and tribulations is testament to not only their depth of talent, but also their depth of spirit and poise under pressure.

United booked its title defence with a road-and-home series triumph over a New Zealand Breakers outfit that was surprisingly stagnant at home and full of life in the return bout at Melbourne Arena on Sunday.

In many ways it was a microcosm of the Breakers' season - a super-fun team when in full flight but ultimately flawed and lacking in any consistency to do major damage.

They can still make the playoffs, but only the most optimistic Kiwi would be backing them to do so now.

The Wildcats ensured their Australian-record finals streak would continue into the 2019-20 season by accounting for the Hawks at RAC Arena.

Having recovered from a serious case of the staggers, the Cats look to have found some ominous form, with reigning MVP Bryce Cotton leading from the front.

And despite comfortably defeating Cairns in the final game of the round to move within a game of fourth spot, Illawarra still has road games against Brisbane and New Zealand to come. They've worked incredibly hard but even that might be a bridge too far for the plucky Hawks.

Meanwhile, the Sydney Kings booked just their second postseason berth since returning to the league in 2010-11 with a pair of wins over the slumping Brisbane Bullets.

With the backcourt pairing of Jerome Randle and Kevin Lisch firing on all cylinders, the Kings have also worked their way out of a form dip to be eyeing a top-two finish.

For the Bullets and coach Andrej Lemanis, however, the recent form guide has not been kind. Three weeks ago the Bullets were surging at 12-9, but have since dropped four straight to have their collective noses pressed up against the playoff glass.

They sit one game back of the 36ers but their softer schedule could yet play to their advantage.

All of Brisbane's remaining games come against Illawarra, New Zealand, and Cairns, all teams below them on the ladder.

Ordinarily, the smart money would be on incumbent Adelaide to hold on to the fourth and final playoff spot.

But the 36ers have been up and down like a yo-yo of late, smacking Perth and Sydney, but losing a return bout to the Wildcats, and then getting whacked by United.

They bounced back with a solid road win against Cairns this round, but have a mixed bag of games remaining - on the road against the Breakers and Perth, home for Melbourne United.

It may yet come down to the final game of the season - the Bullets hosting the Breakers at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre - before we know who's in and who's out.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Jerome Randle (SYD) - The waterbug playmaker had been, well, if not off then slightly below par in recent weeks. But he bounced back in timely fashion for Round 16, scoring 14 points and dishing 7 assists in the road win over Brisbane before backing that up with 26 points in the return bout against the Bullets on Sunday at Qudos Bank Arena.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

G: Jerome Randle (SYD) - See above

G: Mitch McCarron (MEL) - Nailed five of his eight attempts from international waters on his way to 25 points in the overtime win over New Zealand that sealed United's postseason berth. Both the three pointers and total points represented career highs for McCarron, who has been a super-impressive addition for the reigning champs.

F: Nick Kay (PER) - Bryce Cotton and Terrico White may get all the plaudits for their scoring exploits but the Wildcats would be lost without the efforts of Kay. Perth's Swiss Army knife was again prominent in Round 16 with 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists as the 'Cats took care of Illawarra.

F: Daniel Johnson (ADL) - The 36ers big man has been quiet for much of this campaign after being a perennial candidate for this team throughout last season. But he showed how crucial he is to Adelaide's finals hopes with a commanding 24-point, eight-rebound, six-assist performance against Cairns to claim a critical 100-91 road win.

C: Shawn Long (NZB) - Well-held by Josh Boone and company in the first leg of the double against Melbourne United, Long exploded for 28 points, 15 boards, and six assists at Melbourne Arena. Alas, it was to little avail as United closed out both an overtime win and the door on the Breakers' playoffs hopes.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO

All eyes will be on the four teams still jostling for the final playoff spot but there's still plenty of intrigue at the top of the table. The Kings take on both Melbourne United and Perth in Round 17, games that will go a long way to determining who finishes in the top two and earns home court advantage.