The Sydney Kings have risen to third on the NBL ladder after overpowering an out-of-form South East Melbourne Phoenix to score an emphatic 101-81 victory.
With third spot on the table up for grabs, the visitors dominated the second half of Thursday's clash at John Cain Arena to improve their win-loss record to 13-12 and move ahead of the Phoenix (13-12) thanks to a superior percentage.
Casper Ware and Jordan Hunter each scored 19 points as the Kings racked up their third win on the trot despite the recent loss of Dejan Vasiljevic to a season-ending injury and NBL Next Star Didi Louzada leaving for the United States to start his NBA career with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Sydney controlled the opening half but some missed opportunities and a 17-point outburst from Phoenix forward Mitch Creek left the Kings nursing a three-point advantage at the main break.
But the Kings blew the home side off the court with a devastating 35-14 third-quarter blitz to build an unassailable 24-point lead, the Phoenix left reeling by Sydney's attack on the rim and domination of the rebound count (47-30 for the game).
While pleased with the victory, coach Adam Forde felt his team needed to sharpen up after coughing up 18 turnovers as they prepare for a run at a semi-final berth without Vasiljevic and Louzada.
"The guys we've got are very capable - we've got guys who have represented Australia at the Olympics, we've got guys who have played top-tier D1 (college), we've got guys who have played in the NBA," Forde said about his squad.
"We've got the players - maybe in the third quarter we just did a better job but I know it was still a little sloppy in the sense of our execution."
After having assault charges against him dropped in a Melbourne court, Creek led all scorers with 29 points while Kyle Adnam tallied 13 in his 150th NBL appearance as South East Melbourne dropped their third game in a row.
"Every team is going to face some difficulties during the course of the year and right now we are having ours," coach Simon Mitchell said with the Phoenix in danger of dropping out of the top four with Illawarra and Brisbane breathing down their neck.
The Phoenix could only field nine active players with injuries keeping key pieces such as Keifer Sykes, Ryan Broekhoff and Dane Pineau on the sidelines but Mitchell felt it was not an excuse for his team's lack of physicality.
"We got absolutely manhandled out there, we gave up way too many offensive boards, 26 second-chance points - I mean, that's a disaster," he said.