The Perth Wildcats hit a big speed bump on the road to the NBL play-offs on Friday night, suffering their heaviest defeat of the season in a 102-79 thrashing at the hands second-placed Adelaide 36ers at Adelaide Arena.
Having already secured the minor premiership, the Wildcats’ main aims were to tune up for the finals and send a message to their biggest title rivals by beating the Sixers on their home court.
Instead, they were handed a lesson in controlling the tempo during the first half as the hungry home side built a match-winning lead at Adelaide Arena.
The Wildcats briefly made a game of it in the final quarter, but were blown away in the end.
There was no repeat of the ugly post-game melee that marred the previous contest between the two fierce rivals.
The result saw the Sixers secure second spot and home court advantage for the semifinals, with one round left to play in the regular season.
It set up the prospect of a tantalizing grand final meeting between the two traditional powerhouses, who have nine NBL titles between them.
Despite the heavy defeat, Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson said his team would re-group quickly ahead of their final game of the regular season, against Wollongong next week.
Gleeson said the Wildcats would focus on putting more defensive pressure on their opponents, with the semifinals just a fortnight away.
“We’ve got one more home game and we’re looking forward to it,” Gleeson said.
“We’ll get back home and obviously we’ve got to fix some things up and get right and get that momentum going into the finals.”
Adelaide started Friday’s game as the only team in the competition yet to lose at home to the Wildcats this season and rode the energy of the local crowd in the first quarter.
The Sixers seized control of the contest in the second period, opening up a 15-point lead by the main break.
The margin quickly blew out beyond 20 points in the third period and, despite a brief fight-back in the final quarter, the Wildcats’ four-game winning streak was brought to an end.
Willetton product Daniel Johnson continued his dominance of the Wildcats with a game-high 19 points for Adelaide, who also received solid contributions from guards Adam Gibson and Gary Ervin (17 each).
For the Wildcats, imports Beal (17) and James Ennis (16) had the biggest impacts on the scoreboard.
Matt Knight had 14 points and eight rebounds in another solid performance on return from concussion.
Gleeson delivered on his promise to give his bench players the opportunity to impress before the play-offs, with Drake U’u and Erik Burdon both seeing more 10 minutes on court.
The Wildcats are scheduled to host the fourth seed in the opening game of a three-match semifinal series on March 27 or 28.