The Perth Wildcats warmed up for their record 28th consecutive appearance in the NBL play-offs with a comfortable 86-65 win over Wollongong at Perth Arena today.
In a bizarre finish to the regular season, the four play-offs teams met their semifinal opponents in dead rubbers ahead of this week’s semifinal series openers.
Adelaide, who finished second on the ladder, survived third-placed Melbourne’s final-quarter comeback to win 99-94, before Perth eased past Wollongong.
The Wildcats and Hawks will meet again in game one of their best-of-three series at the Arena on Friday night.
Today’s game never reached any great heights as both teams experimented and gave their bench players plenty of court time.
The Wildcats conceded the first 10 points of the game, but erased the deficit before quarter-time and went on to assert their authority with a 14-0 run in the third period.
American import James Ennis scored seven for the term, while Wollongong were held to just six points as the Wildcats stepped up their defensive intensity.
Ennis finished with 17 points, while Jermaine Beal (15) and Jesse Wagstaff (13) were also prominent.
Tim Coenraad (13 points) was Wollongong’s top scorer, while star point-guard Rotnei Clarke was held to just 10 points.
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson said he was extremely proud of his players, who won six of their last eight regular-season games to finish on top of the ladder with a 21-7 record.
The minor premiership guaranteed the Wildcats home court advantage throughout the play-offs.
“What we’ve done has been an outstanding achievement, to finish in first place,” Gleeson said.
“I don’t think Australian sport gives enough recognition to the best team home and away.
“We’ve had a great season and now the intensity lifts and the opposition lifts.”
Gleeson said the Wildcats had no fears over Matt Knight’s health after the star centre suffered another blow to the head, which opened up a cut above his eye that required stitches.
Knight missed eight games earlier this year due to two separate bouts of concussion.
The latest incident occurred during the first quarter and Knight played 19 minutes, finishing with six points and seven rebounds.
Gleeson was confident the big man would be 100 per cent fit for the semifinal opener on Friday.
“He’s always in the action,” Gleeson said.
“He’s not a guy that sits on the perimeter, he gets in there when the going gets tough.
“He’s got some war wounds, but he’s doing well.”
Wollongong will stay in Perth this week to prepare for Friday’s game, instead of flying back to the east coast.