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NBL set for thrilling final round

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 5/02/2017 Scott Bailey

Just two wins separate second place from seventh in the NBL as the competition heads into a thrilling final week.

Illawarra (14-12) can wrap up their finals spot as soon as Monday night with a win over Melbourne.

Perth, Sydney, New Zealand, Cairns and Melbourne United's fate won't be decided until next week with percentages and head-to-head battles likely to decide the top four.

Perth (13-13) missed a golden opportunity to all but cement their place in a 31st straight finals series when they went down 85-77 to Cairns on Sunday afternoon.

It means the Wildcats will have to beat both Sydney and Melbourne next week to be assured of a spot in the playoffs, while one victory will leave them sweating on other results.

The loss was somewhat surprising considering Perth claimed the biggest win of the season - in terms of margin - on Friday night, flogging last-placed Brisbane 94-63 at home, while the Taipans were beaten by the Hawks on the same night.

It also made Cairns one of four teams locked on 13 wins. They'll need two wins against ladder-leading Adelaide next week to guarantee a spot, while one victory would leave them waiting on other results.

Those wins, however, look more likely after the 36ers suffered their second-straight loss on Saturday night.

Already assured of top spot, the 36ers' match was full of drama when Adelaide coach Joey Wright was ejected for arguing his side should have been awarded a foul for a time penalty in the 88-87 loss.

Adding further fuel to the fire, he said referee Brett Hogan should be barred for officiating his club again, based on racial grounds from an incident he claimed happened six years ago.

But the NBL on Sunday strongly defended Hogan's decision, and confirmed that Hogan "has never been found guilty of any charge relating to a racial slur against any participant in the NBL."

The win kept New Zealand's season alive at 13-14, and last year's runners-up will now need to beat Melbourne (12-13) at home on Friday night and then wait on other results to qualify for their third straight finals series.

The match will be a virtual elimination, with Melbourne needing to win at least two of their last three to qualify for the playoffs, while three victories will seal their spot.

They also kept their season alive with a 89-76 win over Sydney on Saturday night.

The loss could prove costly for Sydney's finals hopes.

The one-time ladder leaders remain fifth at 13-14, but will have to beat Perth next week and have results fall in their favour to reach the finals.

THE NBL RUN HOME

* ADELAIDE (17-9): Cairns (a) Cairns (h)

* ILLAWARRA (14-12): Melbourne (a), Brisbane (h)

* PERTH (13-13): Sydney (h), Melbourne (a)

* CAIRNS (13-13): Adelaide (h), Adelaide (a)

* SYDNEY (13-14): Perth (a)

* NEW ZEALAND (13-14): Melbourne (h)

* MELBOURNE (12-13): Illawarra (h), New Zealand (a), Perth (h)

* BRISBANE (10-17): Illawarra (a)

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