Phoenix face uphill battle for NBL finals

Darren Snowdon
The South East Melbourne Phoenix face a history-defining run to make their first NBL semi-finals

South East Melbourne face an uphill battle to qualify for the NBL semi-finals in their inaugural season as critical late errors and mounting injuries begin to take their toll.

The Phoenix appeared well placed to challenge for a top-four spot with eight round to play but consecutive losses have resulted in the first-year franchise dropping to eighth spot on the ladder with an 8-11 record.

Having given up a double-digit lead against Cairns on New Year's Eve, the Phoenix hit the front midway through the final quarter in Sunday's clash against New Zealand before falling short at the finish.

While coach Simon Mitchell praised the spirit displayed by his group in front of a capacity crowd at the State Basketball Centre on Sunday, poor execution in the closing stages resulted in another opportunity lost for the NBL newcomers.

"It's a little bit disappointing but again, kind of like the Cairns game, there's some things that we can take from (the loss) which are about our development as a franchise and a team," Mitchell said after the 97-92 defeat at the hands of the Breakers.

While the return of Tai Wesley from long-term injury has provided a boost, the Phoenix continue to struggle finding a winning combination with captain Mitch Creek, Adam Gibson and Kendall Stephens all battling through injury.

"We couldn't put Gibbo in (the game) in the last quarter because his calf tightened up, Kendall has been carrying an ankle for a couple of weeks now ... I don't remember when Creeky (last) trained," Mitchell said.

The Phoenix are on the lookout for a replacement player following the release of import centre Keith Benson but fitness concerns through the current roster has made that task even more difficult.

"We are looking across the list and saying if we've got to get someone, I'm not even sure what I want to get just yet," Mitchell said.

"If everyone's healthy then we go get another big to help with the workload there but we've got to sit down and find the best player available that will help us moving forward."

The Phoenix hope to have a new import available for their upcoming four-game road stretch; starting with the Illawarra Hawks on Sunday before trips to Perth, Sydney and Brisbane.

"We certainly don't discount ourselves from playoff action, we are only a couple of games out," Mitchell said.

"Obviously we are not playing some of our best basketball at the moment but I think there is a camaraderie in the group and a joint vision that doesn't need to be talked up too much."