Wollongong backcourt bruiser Tyson Demos urged the Hawks to be the aggressor in Friday night's all-important road clash with Townsville.
Demos almost sparked his side to a dramatic comeback victory over Cairns last weekend, scoring 13 points and making several key defensive plays.
Wollongong chipped away at a 17-point three-quarter time deficit but the Taipans did just enough to hold on for an 82-79 triumph.
The loss not only snapped the Hawks' five-game win streak, it left them walking a semifinals tightrope over the final three games.
If they don't beat the last-placed Crocodiles on Friday, Wollongong can just about kiss their top four hopes goodbye.
Demos said the Hawks have to treat the game as though it is a sudden death situation.
"It's really important that we come out with the right intensity and energy," he said.
"Last week was a disappointing loss because we've obviously put ourselves in a harder position to make the playoffs. If we'd won it would've put us in a real good position, but everyone's still real positive because it's still very much in our hands. If we win our last three games, we're a definite chance.
"We came out a bit flat in the last game and it sort of took us three-and-a-half quarters to get going. We're in the money end of the season now and it can't take you that long to get going. It's massively important that we come out with a lot of effort and a lot of energy. They play physical so we have to match that physical intensity."
The Hawks are fifth with an 11-14 record. Sydney are fourth on 11-13, while Cairns are sixth on 11-15.
Townsville (9-17) are out of playoff contention, but they beat Wollongong by 13 in round 16 and will be revved up to win their final home game of the season.
Playing his last game at home will be Crocs centre Russell Hinder, who is retiring at the end of the season.
"It's not like it's a nothing game for them. It's Rusty Hinder's last home game so they'll want to send him out with a win, and they're also going to try and spoil our season."
The Hawks will have import Kevin Tiggs back on court.
Townsville coach Shawn Dennis almost didn’t recognise the Wollongong Hawks when his team was in town last month.
The Crocodiles comfortably accounted for the Hawks at home in round 16 and expected to face the same slow-paced, half-court team in Wollongong.
But Dennis and the Crocs were caught off guard by their opponents, who played up-tempo, end-to-end basketball from start to finish, cruising to a 90-75 victory.
‘‘Wollongong’s become a different team from when we beat them up here. Since we beat them they’ve only lost one game,’’ Dennis said.
‘‘The big thing that I’ve seen is that they unlocked the shackles. Instead of them scoring 70 points, they’re now scoring up around the 90s quite often. That makes them a whole different team and more dangerous.’’
Led by import guard Rotnei Clarke’s 26 points, Wollongong had five players in double figures in the previous meeting with the Crocs, connecting on 51per cent of their shots as a team.
After losing at home to Cairns last week, the Hawks hope to be firing on all cylinders in Friday night’s road duel with Townsville.
‘‘They’ve become a more rounded team of late and have a lot more threats,’’ Dennis said.
‘‘I know Rotnei Clarke’s been amazing, but a few of the other guys have suddenly started take more chances, in particular Rhys Martin, who I think is possibly the most underestimated player in the league.
‘‘Tim Coenraad’s starting to play a lot better and they’re getting more out of other people. That’s what we found down there, that they’ve all of a sudden got other guys to score and penetrate.’’
While the Hawks are set to welcome back American swingman Kevin Tiggs from a three-week break with a knee injury, the Crocs are resigned to being without import forward Brian Conklin.
Guards Steve Markovic and Mitch Norton will play injured.
Crocs officials are hoping to draw a sell-out crowd for the farewell home game of departing centre Russell Hinder.
‘‘You look at a guy like Russ, he’s a player who got every ounce out of his ability throughout his career,’’ Dennis said.
‘‘He gives his heart and soul every time he walks on the floor. I know the guys will want to finish in a positive way for him and that’s really driving them.’’