United to lift in NBL playoffs

Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman is predicting better performances in the semi-finals.
Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman is predicting better performances in the semi-finals.

Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman expects his squad to rise to the occasion as they prepare for a semi-final showdown with Sydney.

The defending champions came within a whisker of falling out of the NBL's top two by losing three of their last four games.

But a late fightback from United on Sunday saw them defeat the Perth Wildcats 81-70 in overtime to earn hosting rights for their playoff series against Andrew Bogut's Kings.

"Now we've secured the home-court advantage, and that was our job today ... this is how you grow the game," Vickerman said after Chris Goulding lit up Melbourne Arena by nailing clutch baskets in the fourth quarter and extra period to secure the win.

"We didn't deliver for a good portion of the game but we delivered in the end and that's what gets people excited about our sport - to see a group battle then find a way to get it done.

"With the Sydney rivalry, the fans are going to be so important and they were pretty good down the stretch today."

While United's recent trend of falling behind early in games could be cause for concern, Vickerman elected to focus on the positives heading into the business end of the season.

"I think for this group when the level has gone up then we've gone up," he said.

"With the level going up in the play-offs, I expect us to come out the way we played in overtime - I expect us not to have that little lull to find something to really get us going."

"I think it's going to be a kick-start - just the energy of the play-offs and the level going up, I think we are pretty excited about it."

With David Barlow not at 100 per cent against Perth, DJ Kennedy swung between the wing and power forward positions with great effect to compile 21 points, 15 rebounds and six assists.

Nine of Kennedy's boards came at the offensive end, including a key rebound in the final minute of regulation to set up Goulding's game-tying three-pointer.

Despite a quiet offensive game, Casper Ware held up defensively to restrict Bryce Cotton, the NBL leader in scoring, to 11 points on 3-of-21 shooting.

Melbourne's team defence was also a factor late in the game, holding the Wildcats to five points in a nine-minute stretch through the fourth quarter and overtime period.

Australian Associated Press