South East Melbourne Phoenix have maintained their hold on third spot on the NBL ladder after cruising to a comprehensive 106-77 victory over Cairns Taipans.
The struggling Taipans were no match for the Phoenix in Friday’s contest at John Cain Arena as the home side bolstered their playoff chances by completing back-to-back wins over the bottom two sides in the space of three days.
South East Melbourne piled on 36 points in the second quarter to establish a 12-point halftime lead then outscored Cairns 29-14 in the third term as they improved their win-loss record to 16-14.
Six Phoenix players collected double-digit points, Mitch Creek finishing with a team-high 20, while the lopsided scoreline allowed coach Simon Mitchell to rest his starters in preparation for Sunday’s crucial clash with crosstown rivals Melbourne United.
“It was a little bit of a soft kill tonight so we will take a little bit from it; it’s certainly a good feeling to come in and get a good win,” Mitchell said.
“I don’t want to be a killjoy but we’ve got a pretty big game on Sunday and we’ll just get our preparation in … we owe Melbourne United one and it would be nice to present ourselves in the best light.”
Creek revealed that a tumultuous few months in which he’d stood down from NBL duties after being charged with assault had affected his motivation for the sport.
But after the charges were dropped, Creek credited the support of the club and recent discussions with Mitchell for helping bring some enjoyment back to the game as he attempts to rediscover his best form.
“It’s nice to get some points on the board, to get a win, to make some plays for the other guys, to see the other guys flourish, to have everyone healthy … just having everyone out there enjoying basketball is what’s the greatest feeling of all right now,” Creek said.
The Phoenix smashed Cairns in every facet of the game, including a rare dominance in rebounding (42-28), as they cashed in on numerous second-chance opportunities.
Taipans coach Mike Kelly felt his squad were not physically or mentally tough enough to handle the Phoenix as their recent poor form continued, the cellar dwellers managing just two wins from their past 11 matches.
“We’ve been through ups and downs in Cairns over the last three years – all that we preach and all that the people of Cairns care about is if these guys go out and play as hard as they can,” Kelly said.
“That’s the first and foremost thing so that’s what we will focus on.”