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Wildcat the missing piece of NBL puzzle

AAP logoAAP 4 days ago Justin Chadwick

Perth Wildcats skipper Damian Martin believes it's mere coincidence his team have rediscovered their mojo since his injury return, saying it's new import Bryce Cotton who had been the missing piece of the puzzle.

The Wildcats have shot up to second spot on the table following a three-match winning run on the road, and are aiming to continue their hot form in Saturday night's top-of-the-table clash with Adelaide.

Perth plummeted to last spot during Martin's two-month injury absence, casting huge doubt on the club's ability to qualify for a 31st straight playoff appearance.

But the decision to axe import Jaron Johnson for a second time and replace him with Cotton has been a masterstroke.

Cotton was electric in last week's win over the Kings in Sydney, pouring in a game-high 26 points in his Wildcats debut.

He was restricted to 11 points against Brisbane in the next game, but his nine final-quarter points helped lift his side to victory.

Martin also played pivotal roles in those two wins, with his defensive qualities proving crucial.

The pair's presence has transformed Perth from wooden-spoon contenders into title fancies.

Martin believes the team had already started to turn the corner before then with an upset road win over Illawarra on New Year's eve.

And he said the arrival of Cotton had added further potency.

"I think he's been the missing piece of the puzzle," Martin said on Thursday.

"He's just a very talented player that makes the guys around him that much better with all the attention he draws.

"In Sydney, he was shooting the lights out.

"In Brisbane, they changed the game plan to try to get the ball out of his hands. And all of a sudden, we were getting open looks.

"I dare say, if some of us guys knocked down the open links he was getting for us, he probably would have finished with 10 assists."

Martin, who suffered a fractured jaw earlier in the season before damaging a ligament in his left knee in November, said he was injury-free but needing to boost his fitness.

"The lungs gave way before the legs did," Martin said of his recent return.

"It's nice it's more of a conditioning thing as opposed to recovering from injury now."

Martin's legs will get the ultimate workout when he attempts to shut down 36ers scoring machine Jerome Randle on Saturday at Perth Arena.

Randle is averaging 22.6 points per game this season, including a 40-point haul in a November loss to the Wildcats.

"Yeah, I'll have the job of chasing him around," Martin said.

"He's probably one of the MVP favourites at this time of the year. He's been fantastic all season for them.

"But if we only focus in on Randle, then we'll get hurt by other great players like Nathan Sobey and Daniel Johnson."

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