"Crazy" NBL scramble is grabbing fans

Melissa Woods
Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman has never seen such a closely-contested NBL season

Championship-winning coach Dean Vickerman describes the NBL competition as "crazy" as upsets become the norm in the hectic scramble for play-off positions.

The season's chaos is exemplified by the Sydney Kings who appeared untouchable last month, only to have their huge ladder lead all but evaporate amid five losses in seven games, culminating with defeat by last-placed Illawarra on Tuesday.

The Kings and defending champions Perth are now locked on 26 points with some distance on the chasing field.

But just two wins separate the next six teams.

Vickerman's Melbourne United sit third with 10 wins and nine losses, the same record as surprise packets Cairns Taipans, who were written off before the season but now appear a genuine title threat

Brisbane, who are second-last, have an 8-10 record and only Illawarra appear out of the race for the final four.

Vickerman, who has been a head NBL coach since 2013 and involved in the NBL since 2004, said he hadn't seen a season like it.

"This league is crazy - anyone can beat anyone," Vickerman said on Thursday.

"There's always going to be that play-off run where you've got three teams fighting for the last spot but the depth of how far it's gone down this year - I haven't seen anything like it in my 16 years in the league."

The even and intense competition is helping boost crowds, with fans flocking and the last round attracting a record attendance.

A new round mark of 67,206 fans attended nine games, smashing the previous best of 61,990 set across 10 games in round three of the 1995 season.

A total of 576,739 fans have attended games so far this season, a 17 per cent increase on the same period for the 2018-19 season.

Vickerman believes the next month will prove decisive ahead of the regular season finish in mid-February.

"For me, the ladder sorts itself out in January so whoever can be great in January is going to find themselves in a good position," he said.

United's next match is on Saturday in Wollongong against giant-killers Illawarra.

Melbourne have lost their last two home games and Vickerman said they needed to show real urgency against the Hawks, who may have injured NBA-bound LaMelo Ball back from a foot injury.

"There's got to be a real desperation about the group and that's what we were trying to drive at training," he said.

"We have no idea what Illawarra's line-up is going to be - we expect Dave Anderson to play more minutes and we're hearing (Sam) Froling is not too far away - is (LaMelo) Ball going to play?

"They've still got a lot of pieces who are sitting out who can really help them."

Stats That Matter:

* The average winning margin of 10.1 points is on track to be the lowest in NBL history

* 45 games have been decided by single figures, which is 54 per cent of all games

* 11 of the last 16 games have been won by the lower ranked team

* Teams are averaging 92.93 points per game, the first time in history the NBL has averaged above 90 in the 40-minute era.