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NBL: No need to panic for faltering Melbourne
As Melbourne clinched their ninth-straight victory to open the season, they sat three wins clear atop the NBL ladder and were as short as $1.40 with bookmakers to take out the minor premiership.
A month later and they have lost six of their last eight to drop to an 11-6 record and second spot on the ladder.
Many have started to write United off, believing this is a mid-to-late-season slide down the standings and to league mediocrity once more.
Of course, that is far from the truth and Melbourne remains one of the biggest threats to the throne for 2015/16.
United’s roster is brimming with talent, with star shooters Chris Goulding and Todd Blanchfield, import guard Stephen Holt, veteran big men Daniel Kickert and former NBA star Hakim Warrick, as well as young revelations Majok Majok and Igor Hadziomeriovic.
A home loss to lowly Sydney last week was seen as a measure of how far Melbourne had fallen since their unbeaten start; however the league is so tight and hotly contested that any side, regardless of ladder position, record and form, can come out on top of any other side on any given night.
Just as top-of-the-table Perth, who have fallen to second-worst Townsville in three out of their four clashes this season, accounting for half of their six losses.
Yes, Melbourne’s offense has deserted them numerous times in the past month on their way to some of their losses, but they still boast some of the most offensively talented players in the competition who are working hard to turn it around between now and the end of the regular season.
There was, of course, the cushioned run of home games that Melbourne had to open the season as well, helping them burst out of the blocks and win nine straight.
If those games were spread throughout the schedule to this point more evenly perhaps, we wouldn’t be talking about United’s fall but instead of their 11-6 record and how they were poised to make a run at the championship.
Let’s be clear – they have run into some poor form and are not nearly as dominant at either end of the floor as they were earlier in the season, that’s fact.
However that doesn’t mean their season is close to over, or that they are no chance to turn it around before the post-season begins.
The top four is separated by a solitary loss, illustrating just how close the league is at the top and just how wide open the race for the title actually is.
Illawarra, the form team of the competition and one who everybody is talking about as a potential championship squad, currently sits fourth with a 10-7 record, while the top three in Perth, Melbourne and New Zealand all lost their last-start matches.
It is near impossible for sides to be up for an entire regular season and then go on to dominate the playoffs as well, in any sport.
Illawarra started off the season shrouded in mediocrity before going on their recent run of form, while season performers Perth and New Zealand have both suffered their fair share of shock losses and even some heavy defeats to this point of the season.
With the Christmas mini-break upon us, Melbourne now has the perfect opportunity to quiet the naysayers and get their season well and truly heading in the right direction once more
Melbourne travels to Adelaide to face the Sixers before heading home to welcome Perth a few days later, playing in two games out of three for the round as many teams enjoy a bye weekend.
Two wins this weekend for Melbourne will see their record move to 13-6 and they will jump back on top of Perth in the standings, seeing the current ladder-leaders drop their second successive game.
Would the blowtorch then turn to Wildcats instead?
Basketball is a game of runs, both within the confines of 40-minute games and over the course of entire seasons.
Timing is everything, with a championship just a well-timed run away for any side who can find their best form at the right stage of the season.
Melbourne United, like any side, must simply work hard and play harder and the rest will take care of itself.