The Sal's NBL season has officially reached the halfway mark and the road home to the Final 4 is open for business, question is which teams are turning onto that road in a sportscar and which are behind the wheel of a clapped-out bush basher?
The current ladder tells us only the Wellington Saints are safe from here as the general consensus is nine wins will be enough to make the last weekend of the season, especially if you hold head-to-head aces over the majority of, if not all others.
However the race behind the Saints is one of great interest. Can the Rams make the Final 4 in their home town, where the event is being staged for the first time in 20 years? Are the Hawks locked in? Can the Sharks hold off the new kids from Tasmania, the Southern Huskies? And are the Giants all done and dusted for the season after a run of six losses?
Importantly, can the Airs, Rangers and Jets cause a few upsets from here and help shape the Final 4?
Weekend passes to the Final 4 at Horncastle Arena are now available HERE.
Sal's NBL Ladder
Wellington Saints 18 - (9 wins - 0 losses - 9 games to play)
Hawke's Bay Hawks 16 - (8wins - 2 losses - 8 games to play)
Canterbury Rams 12 - (6 wins - 2 losses - 10 games to play)
Southland Sharks 10 - (5 wins - 5 losses - 8 games to play)
Southern Huskies 8 - (4 wins - 4 losses - 10 games to play)
Nelson Giants 6 - (3 wins - 7 losses - 8 games to play)
Taranaki Mountainairs 4 - (2 wins - 6 losses - 10 games to play)
Supercity Rangers 4 - (2 wins - 7 losses - 9 games to play)
Manawatu Jets 2 - (1 win - 7 losses - 10 games to play)
The Road Home
Wellington Saints 18 - Giants (A), Airs (H), Airs (A), Jets (H), Hawks (A), Rams (H), Jets (H), Rams (A), Rangers (A).
With 9 games to play and 6 of them against teams currently outside of the top four it isn't hard to see the Saints getting to the Final 4 with an unblemished record. A R11 double against the Hawks and Rams stands out as their biggest test. Given their 9-0 record and what lies ahead the pressure is on the Saints to go all the way, but it's pressure they look more than happy to meet head on.
Hawke's Bay Hawks 16 - Airs (H), Jets (H), Giants (H), Saints (H), Sharks (H), Rangers (A), Rams (H), Huskies (A).
Well placed, the Hawks have a run of five home games coming up and play six of their last eight at Pettigrew Green Arena. Flying high, the Hawks play all three teams currently in the top four with them, but all of those games are at home. The biggest test for the Hawks looms in R14 when they host the Rams and then have to travel to Tasmania. Given the record of teams coming off the Tassie trip if the Hawks can't move up or down on the ladder don't be surprised if a number of stars don't make the long trip - which may in turn suit the Huskies in their quest for a place in the Final 4.
Canterbury Rams 12 - Jets (A), Huskies (A), Huskies (A), Huskies (H), Airs (H), Saints (A), Giants (A), Rangers (H), Saints (H), Hawks (A).
An interested schedule for the Rams as they push to make the Final 4 in their home town. A run of three games against the Huskies will be telling, while a further two games against the Saints and a trip away to play the Hawks in R14 will be crucial. All up they play 6 of their last 10 games on the road and must get wins against the Jets, Giants and Rangers to reach that magical figure of 9 wins.
Southland Sharks 10 - Rangers (A), Rangers (H), Huskies (H), Airs (H), Jets (A), Hawks (A), Huskies (H), Jets (H)
The Sharks only have 8 games remaining, but 5 are at home, including a couple of must-win encounters with the travelling Huskies. The reigning champs can't afford to slip-up against the Rangers over the next two rounds. A friendly schedule sees them spend the final fortnight of the regular season at home, which may prove to be a major bonus.
Southern Huskies 8 - Airs (A), Rangers (A), Rams (H), Rams (H), Rams (A), Sharks (A), Airs (H), Sharks (A), Giants (A), Hawks (H).
The Huskies have games in hand, but with 6 of their next 10 games against teams above them on the ladder they will need to cause some upsets to make the Final 4. A run of 3 games against the Rams must return a couple of wins, while two trips to Invercargill might prove to be the star that breaks the camel's back. They are still in the hunt, but it's a very hard road from here.
Nelson Giants 6 - Saints (H), Rangers (H), Hawks (A), Rangers (A), Jets (A), Rams (H), Huskies (H), Airs (A).
With 8 games to play the Giants look in trouble, especially with the top three teams still on the schedule ahead. Having lost their last six, you can't help but feel the mountain ahead of them is just too big to climb. Last week's loss against the Airs was a massive blow. After a 3-1 start at home, things haven' panned out the way they would have hoped, especially a number of close losses.
Taranaki Mountainairs 4 - Huskies (H), Hawks (A), Saints (A), Jets (A), Saints (H), Rams (A), Sharks (A), Huskies (A), Jets (H), Giants (H).
The Airs still have 10 games to play and will be full of confidence after stringing two wins together. While the team from Taranaki copped some strange looks when they sent not one, but two imports home after a winless start to the season, fact is they have won two of their three games since - so who's complaining? While they won't make the Final 4, the Airs look like a team very keen to create a bit of havoc over the second half of the season.
Supercity Rangers 4 - Sharks (H), Huskies (H), Giants (A), Sharks (A), Giants (H), Jets (H), Rams (A), Hawks (H), Saints (H).
A tough run home for the Rangers with games against the Sharks (twice), Rams, Hawks and Saints. Outside of Tim Quarterman and Venky Jois there hasn't been a lot to cheer about for the Rangers and given the task ahead there might be a long dry spell coming up.
Manawatu Jets 2 - Rams (H), Airs (H), Hawks (A), Saints (A), Rangers (A), Giants (H), Sharks (H), Saints (A), Airs (A), Sharks (A).
Season 2019 will probably be remembered as one of missed chances for the Jets, but they do have that memorable win against the Sharks to look back on. They loom as a danger team from here as everyone is aware of what the Jets are capable of if their 'big three' all fire at the same time. The big question from here is whether or not the Jets can avoid the wooden spoon?