Struggling Taipans now NBL title contender

Matt Nicholls
The resurgent Cairns Taipans take a well-earned break before striving for a fifth-straight NBL win

Easy beats one season, NBL title contenders the next.

That's the scenario for the Cairns Taipans who are now aiming for top spot on the competition ladder.

Last season the wooden spooners won just six of their 28 matches but following Friday night's nerve-jangling 91-89 victory over Brisbane they were within two wins of ladder-leading Sydney Kings.

The 11-9 Taipans are emerging as the sports story of the summer as they continue to defy their underdog status.

Four wins on the trot have taken them past Melbourne United into third spot and eyeing a potential title tilt.

Cairns were the first team to beat the Kings in Sydney and they have also notched away wins against Perth and United this season.

Strangely, the only team they haven't beaten in the 2019-20 season is bottom-placed Illawarra, who have a 3-0 record against Cairns.

Taipans coach Mike Kelly isn't counting his chickens just yet, he knows his side still has plenty of room for improvement.

Closing out games will be a key focus for Kelly's gang in their final eight matches of the regular season.

Against Brisbane, Cairns led by 18 points at the final change and held on to win by just two after Nathan Sobey's buzzer-beater failed to drop for the visitors.

In their last loss against South East Melbourne, the Taipans led by six with 12 seconds to play.

They conceded a turnover and two three-pointers to allow the Phoenix to take the contest to overtime.

"We've been in a number of those situations, close games where we've lost and we've won," Kelly said.

"I think we've learned that in the end you've got to make plays and I'm really happy that I have guys on this team who are playmakers."

After four matches in 12 days, the Taipans will recharge their batteries and prepare for the home stretch.

"We get almost a full week off until we play again which hasn't been the case in the last couple of weeks," he said.

"We need to break it down and see how we can play better in those situations and continue to be in attack mode even when we have a lead going into the fourth (quarter)."

Fans will find out how useful the break was when the Taipans host the New Zealand Breakers on Thursday night before travelling to take on the Sydney Kings on Saturday.

Two wins will have them in contention for the minor premiership. Two losses and they are back among the pack.