Kings' win may get them home advantage in NBL finals
THE Sydney Kings have overcome a Jerome Randle injury and a taxing struggle with Cairns to prevail 89-84 and set themselves up for possible home advantage in the NBL playoffs.
Andrew Bogut was at the forefront again as the Kings held the visitors at bay throughout most of Saturday afternoon's tense contest.
The result propelled the Kings to second on the ladder with an 18-10 record.
They'll stay there if third-placed Melbourne United (17-10) lose on Sunday in their last regular-season game - at home to Perth (18-9), with the Wildcats almost certain to qualify top regardless.
A Melbourne victory would hand the defending champions home advantage over Sydney in the semi-finals.
Randle didn't suit up due to what the Kings said in a statement was "minor quad soreness".
However, the influential American guard said in a courtside interview that he was in considerable pain and pleased there were almost two weeks until the playoffs began, giving him time to rehabilitate.
Bogut admitted the Kings' attack seemed slower without Randle and it showed at times against their last-placed opponents.
The former NBA centre finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and six assists in another all-round display, underlining his favouritism to be crowned the league MVP.
Bogut said the FIBA break, which pushed the start of the playoffs back to late February, would play into the Kings' hands.
"I've got 34 reasons why I'm happy with the two-week break. We've got a lot of older guys on this roster," the 34-year-old said.
"Hopefully, we can make some noise. I still don't think we've hit our ceiling.
"We've got a lot of things to work on. When we buy in to our scout report and what we're trying to do, we're pretty tough to beat."
Brad Newley scored 19 for Sydney while captain Kevin Lisch sank 11 of his 18 points in the final quarter, when Cairns closed to within a point.
Melo Trimble shot 21 points to complete a high-scoring season for the Taipans, but their focus was mainly on retiring captain Alex Loughton, who tallied 17.
Loughton drilled five of seven three-pointers, including two in the final minute, to bring the curtain down on an 11-season, 311-game NBL career.
His team couldn't repeat Thursday's 87-85 upset of Melbourne and finished with a 6-22 record.
"It's a great double-header finish with a win in Melbourne and taking it all the way against Sydney," Loughton said.
"I'm just proud of the way the boys battled without anything to play for aside from our own personal pride."