Versatile import Kevin Tiggs is expected to slot straight back into his multifaceted role off the bench when he makes his comeback for Wollongong in Friday's must-win road game against Townsville.
Tiggs was starting to come into his own in the second half of the season, establishing himself as his team's second-leading scorer and a leading candidate for NBL Sixth Man of the Year honours.
But he suffered a knee injury in a February 15 road win over Sydney and was forced to miss three games after undergoing minor surgery.
Wollongong won two games without Tiggs before last week's 82-79 home loss to Cairns. His return adds another dimension to the Hawks at both ends of the court.
"Kevin obviously gives us more depth, it gives a different look and it gives us more scoring punch," coach Gordie McLeod said.
Tiggs tallied 15 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes when the Hawks beat the Crocodiles by 15 last month.
Guard Tyson Demos said Tiggs gave his knee a testing workout during the week.
"He had his first full session on Monday and went up and had a few dunks, so he's not holding back much," Demos said.
"He's trained well all week. It's a massive bonus for us to have Kev back."
Demos has his own injury concerns, but it won't keep him from taking on the Crocs.
"I'm limited to an hour-and-a-half of training because of the tendonitis in my Achilles," the former Illawarra junior rep said.
"I just have to manage it and look after it, and hold it off until after the season, because a couple of months off should get the body right again."
Demos is looking forward to locking horns with Townsville's tough playmaker Steve Markovic.
"I always like going up against the best guards in the league and Markovic is definitely up there," he said.
"He's pretty much got it all. He can shoot, he can put it on the floor and he's a strong defender.
"Townsville have got a very good guard rotation. They've got great shooters and they're very physical."
Townsville coach Shawn Dennis has demanded greater attention to defensive detail from his side in Friday’s showdown with Wollongong.
The Hawks dominated the Crocodiles a month ago in Wollongong, cruising to a 90-75 victory.
Man-to-man defensive containment was a big issue on that occasion for the Crocs when Wollongong scored freely, making 51 per cent of their shots and finishing with five players in double figures.
Dennis is counting on his team to be far less charitable in their fourth and final clash with the Hawks, who have to win their final three games to stay in top-four contention.
‘‘Our ability to defend individually is going to be much more important, and that was something we didn’t get done in Wollongong,’’ he said.
‘‘We’re trying to get the guys to understand that we have to do a better job individually than we’ve been doing in the past. If we can’t do that we’re going to struggle to keep people out of the key, and Wollongong’s too good a shooting team. Once they start breaking you down off the dribble you’re in big trouble.’’
Dennis has performed an admirable job keeping the Crocs competitive, despite dealing with injuries to key players and the club’s recent three-game suspension of import Josh Pace after he was charged with drink driving.
American forward Brian Conklin (hamstring) remains sidelined, while point guards Steve Markovic and Mitch Norton will play injured against the Hawks.
‘‘Stevie and Mitch are not 100per cent, and we’re hopeful that he’ll [Conklin] get back against Sydney [next week],’’ Dennis said.
‘‘The great thing about the group the whole year is that there’s been times where they could’ve switched off but they’ve really kept trying to get better. They’re certainly not giving in.’’