The Wellington Saints are still in the Final 6 race - that is the emphatic message out of a 100-88 win over the Otago Nuggets.
However, the pressure that has been building on the 2021 champions might well be pushed over to the Nuggets as they encounter a mid-season slump that has led to five losses in six games.
In a tough battle the Saints won all four quarters on their way to a 12-point win, their fifth victory from 13 games at a time when their margin for error is effectively closed.
With most pundits predicting it will take 10 wins to reach the Final 6, though maybe by some chance even nine wins might get you to the season-ending event at Eventfinda Stadium between August 10-13 if you have the head-to-head advantage over teams tied on wins, the Saints have to keep chalking up wins to avoid any doubt.
This victory was set up by Xavier Cooks, the formidable Australian was a powerful force at both ends of the court as his ability to impact the game led to a plethora of highlights. Dunks, blocks, steals, rebounds - he did it all in a big way.
The Nuggets went in without Sam Timmins and Nikau McCullough, two regular starters who are both away on national team duty - their absence was felt the longer the game went as Tray Boyd, Keith Williams and Todd Withers did all they could to stay with the Saints.
Pleasingly for the home crowd the Saints unveiled a late-season import - Reggie Upshaw Jnr - and based on first impressions they have found a quality addition with the strong 27-year-old forward out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, dropping 19 points.
The tale of the tape told a compelling story with the Saints scoring 26 points from the 16 turnovers coughed up by the Nuggets, a reward for the pressure and energy the 12-time champions brought to the contest.
With the win the Saints move ever so closer to the top six, but a tough upcoming run with two games against the Hawks and clashes with the Giants and and Tuatara certain to test their ability to make a barnstorming run to the playoffs.
The Nuggets dropped to 6-7 with a tight turnaround ahead of them against the Hawks on Monday night, the back-end of a tough road double that could see them drop out of the top six if they can't muster a win in Hawke's Bay.
SCORE: Saints 100, Nuggets 88
Saints: Cooks 26PTS, 14REB, 6AST, 6STL, 4BLK | Samuel 20PTS | Upshaw Jnr 19PTS | Smith 13PTS, 8AST
Nuggets: Williams 27PTS | Boyd 27PTS | Withers 14PTS
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Xavier Cooks (Saints) - 9 votes
Tray Boyd III (Nuggets) - 9 votes
Keith Williams (Nuggets) - 4 votes
Taane Samuel (Saints) - 4 votes
Reggie Upshaw Jr. (Saints) - 3 votes
Todd Withers (Nuggets) - 1 vote
Saints - July 14 vs Hawke's Bay Hawks
Nuggets - July 11 @ Hawke's Bay Hawks
Round 11 Sal's NBL Schedule