The race to July’s Final 4 in Christchurch is officially a five horse race. No disrespect to the Nelson Giants, but the notion of a team on a current seven game losing streak winning all of their remaining seven games and sneaking into fourth place is a bit far-fetched. Possible yes, probable no.
Added to that the Giants still have games against the Hawks and Rams, amongst others.
No, it’s a race of five - Saints, Hawks, Rams, Huskies and Sharks.
More to the point, you can take the Saints and Hawks out of that equation because with 10 and nine wins respectively, and currently on a 10-game and six-game winning streak, they are both well and truly safe and can start buying tickets to this season's big dance.
Therefore it's three vying for the two remaining spots. All eyes right now are on the Rams (14pts), Huskies (12pts) and Sharks (12pts). The Rams have nine games remaining, the Huskies have eight, while the Sharks only have seven.
Interestingly, of the Huskies and their eight games, they play the Rams three times and the Sharks twice, both in Invercargill. Should the Huskies get through that minefield and make the it to the Final 4, good on them. It will be an achievement well deserved.
So who will make it? Which of the three will miss out?
Chance are we might not have to wait until the final round or two because over the next two rounds the Rams and Huskies will play each other three times. Yes, three times! Plus, the Huskies will travel to Invercargill. All up we have four games that could decide which two teams are bound for Horncastle Arena.
The Rams hit the road this week and will meet the Huskies in both Hobart and Launceston, before the Tasmanians cross the ditch once again and meet the Rams in Christchurch, after which they fly deeper south to tackle with the Sharks.
It’s a quirk of the schedule that is likely to impact on this year’s Final 4 in a major way.
The Rams enter their Australian adventure after scraping through against the Jets in what Head Coach Mick Downer will probably view as his team’s most disappointing effort in quite a while, particularly when you consider they toppled the same team a week earlier by a mammoth 41 points.
On the other hand, the Huskies will be back on home soil and for the first time sitting inside the top four after beating both the Mountainairs and Rangers on just their second trip to New Zealand in their first Sal’s NBL season.
One interesting onlooker across all three games between the Rams and Huskies will no doubt be Judd Flavell and the Southland Sharks. The reigning champs are in fifth position and far from playing consistent, finals worthy basketball. Flavell will know only too well the games against the Huskies are probably make-or-break encounters.
For the Huskies it is fair to assume their destiny is in their own hands. They have four legit players in Billups, Nichols, Jones and Moller, while the supporting cast is progressively adapting to the competition and playing better as the weeks roll by.
If the Huskies can at the very least split the next four games (2-2) they will be in the hunt, grab three or four wins and they might be able to start planning for a weekend in Christchurch on July 20-21. However, if they come away with just one win, or dare we say it, winless, then the mountain becomes a big one to climb in the closing rounds.
Rams, Huskies or Sharks - four massive encounters that could ultimately decide the four teams going to this year’s Sal’s NBL Final 4.