NBL 2014/15 Round 15: Top 4 in danger for Perth after second straight loss

View image | gettyimages.com

The Perth Wildcats still sit third on the ladder but their position is tenuous after Melbourne United handed them their second straight home loss in an 86-78 defeat.

Although they own a two win advantage over fifth placed Adelaide, four of Perth’s final eight games come against Cairns and New Zealand while a Round 20 match-up with the 36ers looms as a potential elimination final.

The Wildcats were uncharacteristic in their game-play for most of the night. They recorded 8 more turnovers and 6 less steals while their intensity came and went in spurts.

They erased a 7 point half-time deficit in just two minutes of the third term before Melbourne responded with the next 8 points. Perth’s lack of intensity was on full display when they remained in their huddle despite United inbounding a baseline ball, resulting in an And-1 lay-up for Jordan McRae.

That sequence occurred in the middle of a 16-2 run for Melbourne as they opened up a game high 16 point lead by three-quarter time. The match seemed over until Perth started the fourth term with another run, scoring the first 8 points. Back-to-back three pointers from Jesse Wagstaff had the Perth Arena rocking while United were kept scoreless for the first 4:50.

A Daniel Kickert push shot finally took the lid off the rim for the visitors half-way through the term. Then, Chris Patton completed a three point play before Kickert hit a coffin-nailing three pointer to seal the game.

View image | gettyimages.com

While the possibility of falling out of the top four is starting to become a reality for the Wildcats, Melbourne came into the match knowing a loss would drop them to a 10-11 record, equal with Adelaide. Their focus was exemplified from the opening tip by McRae, who had shot just 1-14 for 2 points in his last outing.

The guard had 12 points and 3 rebounds by quarter-time and with United in a zone, Perth’s desire to feed the ball inside was upset. This defence led to many tipped balls and allowed McRae to get out in the open floor.

However, with McRae getting a well earned rest in the final minutes of the term, DeAndre Daniels was able to take advantage. He guided Perth to the final 8 points of the quarter, reducing the margin to just 2.

That lead was maintained throughout the second period by Melbourne as they seemingly answered every Perth shot with a three. Kickert, Mark Worthington and Stephen Dennis all contributed from deep but Daniels again kept the margin manageable.

He reeled off 9 points to have a game high 15 by half-time, including a strong dunk in traffic. They momentarily grabbed the lead but were unable to sustain the run once again as Melbourne responded to take a 7 point advantage into half-time.

Daniels (25 points, 12 rebounds) was one of few Wildcats players who could hold his head high after the match. Shawn Redhage pushed his total to 17 with 6-6 free throw shooting, Jermaine Beal had 14 and Wagstaff added 10 off the bench.

For Melbourne, McRae (27 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 block) was devastating all night and his back court pressure alongside Dennis (14 points, 5 assists, 5 steals) was outstanding. In the front court, Kickert (15 points and 8 boards) and Worthington (11 and 7) held their own although a possible shoulder injury to Lucas Walker could hurt their forward stocks.

The Wildcats do not have time to lick their wounds as they head out on the Sunshine Swing road trip, facing Townsville on Friday night and Cairns on Saturday. Melbourne will head back home for the first time in two weeks to host the Crocs on Sunday.

Perth Wildcats 86 (Daniels 23, Redhage 17, Beal 14)

Melbourne United 78 (McRae 27, Kickert 15, Dennis 14)

@ Perth Arena