WARY Melbourne coach Chris Anstey has the Tigers on red alert for Saturday night's showdown with the Wollongong Hawks.
The Tigers are third with a 10-12 record and coming off back to back losses to Perth.
Sitting one spot back are the Hawks, who slipped to 10-14 with last week's overtime home loss to Adelaide.
Melbourne have six games remaining, the Hawks just four.
Wollongong beat the Tigers by eight when they clashed in Melbourne in round four, though the Tigers have conquered the Hawks twice in Wollongong since then, prevailing by eight in round 12 and seven in round 18.
Anstey rejected suggestions the Tigers have the Hawks' measure.
"We played a good game of basketball in Wollongong [in round 18] and it was at a time when [Hawks import] Malcolm Grant was still finding his feet," Anstey said.
"[Hawks centre] Larry Davidson was out [in round 12], so we've been fortunate that we've caught Wollongong at times when they've had injuries or instability within the group. This time they're coming in with a full group.
"We respect the hell out of them. They're extremely well coached, they move the ball as well as anyone in the NBL and defensively they're really disruptive.
"We don't feel like we've got the wood on them. The ladder reflects the true state of where things are because both teams are very close in terms of where we're at in our seasons."
The Hawks can still finish third but can drop to last if they close the season with a run of losses.
Melbourne have to play New Zealand and Townsville twice each and also face a tough road game against Cairns.
"We're in exactly the same boat as Wollongong. We understand the importance of every game we play now," Anstey said.
"It's so close. Mathematically there's six teams that can still make finals. It'll be really tough for a couple, but primarily there are four teams who have a genuine chance to make the finals, so we should feel good about that.
"Results have probably gone our way for a couple of weeks, but the last thing we want to do is depend on that. With ourselves and Wollongong being in the top four, our destiny's in our own hands," Anstey said.
"If you're not winning games and the teams around you are losing, you probably don't deserve to be in there anyway."