After cashing in on their final chance to qualify for the NBL post-season, Melbourne United plan to celebrate their late-season resurgence before setting their sights on semi-final opponents Sydney
Following an 18-point loss to the rampant Kings in round 17, Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman predicted that his club would need to win four of their last five matches to have any hope of finishing in the top four for the third straight season.
A narrow away loss to finals aspirants Brisbane in round 18 left United with no margin for error but last season's grand finalists rose to the challenge, winning their final three games to secure the last available play-off spot.
But after knocking off cross-town rivals South East Melbourne on Sunday to leapfrog Brisbane and New Zealand into fourth spot, Vickerman was not ready to think about their upcoming best-of-three semi-final clash with Sydney.
"We are going to enjoy this moment, we are going to walk into the (league) MVP dinner tonight with a quiet confidence about what we've done over the last month," Vickerman said after United's 109-90 win over the Phoenix at Melbourne Arena.
Vickerman revealed the club approached their run through the back end of the season as if it was an NBA-style play-off series.
"We got to that point with seven games to go and we said it's a best-of-seven series," Vickerman said.
"We've got to win it, we don't have home-court advantage and somehow we found a way to win four out of the seven and that was good enough to get us to the finals."
United won their final three games by an average winning margin of just under 20 points, helping boost their points percentage to ensure they finished above the Bullets and Breakers after all three teams finished with 15 wins.
"Just getting those margins in those games became the difference in the ladder at the end of the day," Vickerman said.
"I'm sure New Zealand and Brisbane are going to be totally disappointed because they played some pretty good basketball in the second half of the year."
Captain Chris Goulding excelled during United's finals charge, the sharp-shooting guard averaging 22 points in their last four victories.
The 2018 NBL Grand Final MVP was happy with the way his squad responded to the challenge of reaching the semi-finals and feels they are capable of upsetting the high-flying Kings to advance to a third successive grand final.
"We've said it all along - even when we were losing some games, when we play our best basketball we can compete and beat anyone so that's what we will be looking to do," Goulding said.
Australian Associated Press