NBL finals picture a puzzle

BASKETBALL

The plot just keeps thickening in the battle for NBL finals positions.

Aside from Perth (19-6) and Adelaide (15-9), every team has at least 12 losses.

Melbourne (12-12) have lost their way at the wrong end of the season and are barely clinging to third spot.

Sydney (11-12) have been up and down over the past month but remain fourth, while fifth-placed Wollongong (11-13) are the league's hottest side with five straight wins.

Cairns (10-15) and New Zealand (10-15) can't be counted out and Townsville (9-15) are also a mathematical chance.

The Hawks take on Cairns at WIN Entertainment Centre on Saturday night, a team they lost to at home in round 14 but have beaten twice in Taipans territory.

"Cairns are a great team. They have a lot of talent and they're not going to hand anything over. It's going to be a huge challenge," Wollongong's leading scorer Rotnei Clarke said.

"At one point we were sitting 6-13, and we could've easily just given up and said this year's over. But we've obviously come together and we're pretty resilient to win five straight. It says a lot about our team.

" We have to continue to win games if we're going to have a shot of getting to the play-offs.

"We have to continue to come out from the first quarter to the end of the game, play hard and try to set the tone in every game, every quarter and every minute from here on out for the rest of the season."

Bedridden with the flu for most of last week, Clarke, 24, found the energy to score 21 points - he piled on 10 in the fourth quarter alone - in Friday's thrilling win over Adelaide.

"I didn't feel great but I was good enough to play," he said. "I've played through any sickness that I've had, but it was really bothering me throughout the beginning of the week. It kept me out of practice a day and I just had to rest the whole day and keep my fluids up. I don't think I was 100 per cent for the game, but I knew that going in, and I knew I'd do what I could to contribute."

That the Hawks have won their past two games without their second-leading scorer, swingman Kevin Tiggs, is even more impressive.

Rhys Martin enjoyed a career-best performance against Adelaide with 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.

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