Starting 5: Phoenix rise to the occasion

United got on the board last week but there are still huge question marks, while Sydney seem to not be missing Kevin Lisch at all. Here's what to keep an eye out for in Round 5 of the NBL.

Throwdown II - Can United bounce back?

Well, well, well, WELL.

What a difference a month makes, hey?

Cast your collective memory back to the start of the National Basketball League and the consensus was the opening round Throwdown between Melbourne United and the fledgling South East Melbourne Phoenix would be a one-sided affair, the perennially contending United sure to show the upstarts who was in charge.

But, to paraphrase Jay-Z, the city is under new management.

The Phoenix have taken full advantage of a friendly schedule, winning every contest in their home city thus far, their lone blemish a trip to Perth and a resultant spanking that sent them back across the Nullarbor with plenty to think about.

And even then, that wasn't enough to deter them from bouncing back with a gritty 10-point win over Adelaide after trailing early. Spearheaded by the indefatigable Mitch Creek and the sharpshooting John Roberson, South East Melbourne (and just as an aside, how good is it to be able to say that again?) has basically dared the opposition to try to outscore them, leading the league in scoring with 98 points per game.

Yes, they're conceding the second-most number of points in the league but they don't seem to care right now, essentially adopting the old adage of "you'll have to outscore us to beat us and you're welcome to try!" In stark contrast, at 1-4 and sitting second-last in the standings, United is in need of some work.

With three of the top-8 scorers in the league, including two of the top three in Shawn Long and Melo Trimble, putting the ball in the basket was never going to be United's main issue. It's at the other end of the floor where United's problems mostly lie.

Conceding a very middling 93.6 points per game, Melbourne is, on average, shipping more points than it's scoring, a trend that would no doubt be driving head coach Dean Vickerman absolutely bananas. To that end, Throwdown II is the mouth-watering main event of Round 5.

United desperately needs to square the ledger, not just for bragging rights reasons, but also to begin the process of getting its season back on track.

Lose, and it's a 1-5 record with the rampant Sydney Kings to come. It's not unrealistic nor unreasonable to think United could be 1-6 at the end of this round. Similarly, would anyone be surprised if the 2018 champions claimed both games and righted the ship? No, me either.

Horror Movie, but for who?

The New Zealand Breakers and Cairns Taipans tip off Round 5 on Halloween and it's a matchup with some pertinent questions.

Can the Snakes prove their past two weeks haven't just been an unsustainable purple patch?

Are the Breakers, despite a 1-3 start, capable of causing serious damage to the rest of the competition with one of the most entertaining rosters in the league? And will history repeat and see the Breakers crush the Taipans as they did in the opening game of Round 5 last season, running out easy 104-81 winners?

New Zealand will debut former Sydney Kings forward Deng Deng, who is an injury replacement for pivot Rob Loe.

The Breakers centre suffered a fractured skull when he was accidentally elbowed in the head by LaMelo Ball.

The Taipans' offence has been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks and playmaker Scott Machado has been the ignition switch, leading the league in assists at a tidy 8 dimes per outing. Spark Arena is going to wind up being the house of horrors this round. The only mystery left to solve is who will be the victim.

Royal Rules

This column last week made mention of the potential damage that the absence of Kevin Lisch could make to the Kings' on-court fortunes.

So far, it simply hasn't been felt, with Sydney storming to the top of the table with an unblemished record.

The last three times the Kings started out 5-0 they went on to at least make the championship round, winning the title on two of those occasions.

The Kings head to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre for their first clash of Round 5 and what will be a battle between Sydney's league-best defence and the worst defensive outfit in the NBL.

Sydney is conceding just 77.4 points per game while the 36ers are leaking a whopping 98 points per game.

Anchored by reigning MVP Andrew Bogut, the Kings defence will no doubt look to keep Adelaide's shooting percentages around their nickname

Keys to the car

Well, it looks like the P-plates are going to have to come off permanently.

With veteran guard and leading scorer Aaron Brooks suffering a devastating ruptured Achilles tendon injury last weekend, the Illawarra Hawks have little choice but to hand over the keys to LaMelo Ball and live with what may come.

And that may not be a bad thing. Ball looked like he really started to find a comfort level against Perth last weekend, tallying 16 points, nine boards and seven assists (against only three turnovers). The Hawks and Brisbane Bullets head to the nation's capital this round for an Illawarra home game at the AIS Arena in what will be AJ Ogilvy's 150th NBL game.

The AIS is also the site of Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis's biggest ever defeat as either an NBL player or coach, a 51-point stomping at the hands of the Canberra Cannons in 1991 when Lemanis was playing for the Southern Melbourne Saints.

The rivalry renewed

Round 5 concludes Monday night with United hosting the Kings and if ever there were two games in a weekend that were going to test a perennial powerhouse like Melbourne, it's this.

United has thoroughly owned Sydney in recent seasons, especially at home, having taken the past six consecutive games in the friendly confines of Melbourne Arena.

The "Go hard or go to Sydney" sign in the upper deck a constant reminder of United's sheer dominance over their NSW counterparts.

In fact, in 22 total meetings between the two teams, Sydney has tasted victory just three times. Three from 22. And weirdly, two of those were in Melbourne.

But it appears to be a vastly different Kings outfit thus far. Deep, athletic, talented and well-drilled, Sydney has made a compelling case to be the early title favourites.

The matchup between Bogut and United's Shawn Long will be one to savour, with Long leading the league in scoring and running a narrow second to Bogut in the rebounding stakes.

It will also be Kings dynamo Casper Ware's first game back at Melbourne Arena against the team he suited up for 87 games and led to the 2018 championship.

A win here and the Kings would not only cement that favouritism but also condemn their bitter rivals to either a split of the round or consecutive defeats they can ill afford, even at this early stage of their campaign.