The race for the NBL finals could effectively be over for the chasing group of four teams this weekend but the big question remains - is any side capable of knocking off the Wildcats?
Despite being uncharacteristically inconsistent in recent weeks, Perth hold a 16-6 record and if they knock over second-placed Adelaide (13-7) at home on Friday night, they will have the minor premiership and home-court advantage in the finals all wrapped up.
While they would never admit it publicly, NBL officials would be thrilled Perth have lost three of their past four games to at least breathe some life into the teams holding out hope of lifting the trophy this season.
But you get the feeling it's just a blip on the radar out west. The Wildcats have been coasting, knowing the finals are still more than a month away and they've still got six matches to regain their early-season momentum before the playoffs.
They have often been without star big man Matt Knight recently due to the two accidental head knocks he copped either side of the new year. His absence was a crucial factor in last weekend's 88-75 loss in Townsville.
But very few rival teams will be shedding any crocodile tears about Perth - after all their roster still contains arguably two of the best four imports in the NBL, James Ennis and Jermaine Beal (with Sam Young and Rotnei Clarke rounding out the Mount Rushmore of off-season recruits), as well as veterans Shawn Redhage and Damian Martin, still regarded as the best defensive player in the league, and the much-improved Jesse Wagstaff.
Of the three contenders to Perth's title claim, Adelaide have a 1-1 record against them this season, third-placed Melbourne have lost two of their three encounters while fourth-placed Sydney have been beaten in all three tussles with the Wildcats. The Kings have not shared a court with them since copping a 98-55 drubbing at Perth Arena on November 24 in what was high-profile import Sam Young's first match in the NBL.
They meet again on March 2. If the Kings cop another flogging from Perth, they will be doing nothing more than making up the numbers if they finish fourth and have to face the Wildcats in the first round of the playoffs.
Shane Heal has been quite open recently talking about how his team wants to push Melbourne out of third spot. They'd have a much better chance of surviving the first round of the playoffs against Adelaide - they've got a 2-1 record over the 36ers this season with one more game to play next month.
Of the four teams on the outside looking in, winning the title is a pipe dream. If they somehow scrape into the finals after the seasons they've endured, they'll be happy.
Perhaps not the Breakers. The sixth-placed Auckland-based side started the season chasing a historic fourth straight title but at 8-12, they will need to win at least six of their last eight matches to have any hope of prolonging their dream into the post-season.
Fifth-placed Cairns looked the best of the rest last month when they won three straight but back-to-back losses to Adelaide and Townsville have stalled their momentum yet again this season.
Townsville and Wollongong are curious sides. They both have the potential to beat the best - the Crocodiles knocked off Perth last week and the Hawks did the same to Adelaide - but the depth in their rosters has been their Achilles heel this season.
While the playoff race is not quite as close as the NBL would hope, officials at head office have been pleased with the steady growth of the competition this season. Crowds have been solid, television ratings have risen and initiatives such as the launch last week of a weekly podcast show the NBL is being proactive.
However, it appears some people are already getting ahead of themselves with the expansion talk in some cities. The NBL cannot afford to repeat the boom-bust cycle of expansion into new markets quickly followed by franchises disappearing. There was plenty of optimism in the Gold Coast before the Blaze came into existence about that team being a long-term powerhouse. They lasted five seasons.
Taking it to the poll ...
Last week’s NBL question reaffirmed Perth veteran Damian Martin’s status as the best defensive player in the league with 30 per cent of the 280 votes for the tenacious guard. Breakers stalwart Mika Vukona was next with 18 per cent followed by Sydney centre AJ Ogilvy (16).
New NBA commissioner Adam Silver got it right when he chose New Orleans boom forward Anthony Davis as Kobe Bryant’s All Star replacement with 22 per cent of the 494 votes for him in the poll on who was the unluckiest player to miss selection. Spurs veteran Tim Duncan (16 per cent) was next, followed by Phoenix playmaker Goran Dragic and Warriors centre Andrew Bogut on 15 per cent.
The story Double Dribble: Not much evidence to suggest Perth Wildcats will be beaten in NBL finals first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.