Cairns Taipans stun Melbourne in NBL

Melbourne United's chances of claiming top spot on the NBL ladder has suffered a blow following a dramatic 87-85 loss at home to the Cairns Taipans.

The defending champions needed a victory on Thursday night at Melbourne Arena to move back into first place with one game to play but the bottom-placed Taipans led from start to finish for the upset result.

United pulled off the biggest comeback of the season in Cairns last month and fell just short of repeating the dose, Casper Ware missing a jump shot in the final seconds that would have put United in front.

"It's payoff for the way these guys have continued to work and come together," said Taipans coach Mike Kelly.

"We've been banging our heads against the wall for quite a while against a lot of these great teams so it's great to go back-to-back and get two wins in a row."

Melbourne's loss leaves them with a 17-10 record, handing Perth (17-9) the chance to close in on home-court advantage in the playoffs if they defeat Adelaide on Friday night.

Cairns outplayed their highly-fancied opponents in the first half, outscoring United 18-3 off turnovers with retiring skipper Alex Loughton inspiring his side with 14 points.

United almost reeled in a 15-point deficit in the third quarter but DJ Newbill exploded with 15 consecutive points to keep Cairns in the box seat.

Melbourne had their chances in the final term but could not land the killer blow in the closing stages.

"We had plenty of opportunities in the fourth quarter," United coach Dean Vickerman said after the loss, unhappy with his squad's lack of energy to start the contest.

"Our defence was at the level it needed to be -- we made them turn it over 23 times and we didn't convert on enough of those."

Cairns import Melo Trimble tallied 21 points as his battle with Perth's Bryce Cotton to finish as the league's leading scorer comes down to the final weekend of the regular season.

Chris Goulding led all scorers with 22 points while Ware finished with 18.

After an even start to the second term, Cairns regained the initiative with Lucas Walker nailing a three-pointer to push the lead back into double digits.

Ware had the final say in the first half, weaving his way to the basket for the slick finish, but it was Cairns going into the main break ahead 50-42.

Things looked grim for the home side when Newbill put Cairns up 61-46 from long range but Mitch McCarron and Ware made key defensive plays for the home side to spark a 12-0 run.

But Newbill took charge of the Taipans' offence to score their next 12 points for Cairns to lead 73-65 at the final change despite Goulding's long buzzer beater.