United bracing for 36ers ambush
It had a taste of high-octane basketball last week, but Melbourne United's championship credentials will be truly tested on Monday against transition kings Adelaide 36ers.
Protecting the paint and limiting fouls will be central to United's plans as it returns to Adelaide for the first time since last year's grand final series.
It is the first of a five-game, season-defining stretch for United, including a double against New Zealand, a trip to Sydney and a return bout in Adelaide on February 10.
The 36ers' speed and athleticism have troubled Melbourne but, filled with renewed confidence after Wednesday's home win against Illawarra Hawks, United will be primed for what promises to be a hostile reception in Adelaide.
There will be no love lost between the traditional rivals after United's loss to the 36ers on Boxing Day at Melbourne Arena, where early fouls and costly turnovers led to the two-point defeat and outspoken Adelaide coach Joey Wright then accused Melbourne point guard Casper Ware of trash talk and being a sore loser.
United coach Dean Vickerman said the focus would be on limiting Adelaide's effectiveness in the paint.
"I thought Perth (in its defeat of Adelaide on Friday night) did a good job of closing down the interior game from them and did a pretty good job of keeping them off the foul line," Vickerman said.
"We know in Adelaide we haven't been great at keeping them off the foul line.
"The three-point shot is something that's improving for them, but it's still always going to be their points in the paint.
"(I was) pleased with the way we went in the Illawarra game in closing down the points in the paint and restricting them from shooting the number of free throws that they do."
United held the Hawks to 25 points in the paint last week.
Captain Chris Goulding will be nursed through to the end of the season after jarring his knee in Perth last Sunday week. Despite coming off the bench against Illawarra, the sharpshooter still had an impact, draining 13 points.
Vickerman was confident Goulding's knee would "keep getting better" but said his role would change depending on his health and match-ups.
Mitch McCarron got the start last Wednesday.
"It's a little bit week to week," Vickerman said.
"It's always going to be match-ups as well.
"We've got to keep looking at advantages and if we believe Chris is the advantage, whether it's offence or defence, we're just going to continue to make that call."