Starting 5: The Kings seem destined for NBL throne

1 - Thy Kingdom Come

We're into Round 10 of the National Basketball League and there's one thing that's abundantly clear.

It's Sydney's title to lose.

The artists formerly known as the Violet Crumbles or The Cardiac Kids have assembled a spectacularly deep and talented roster that has largely swept all before it. Imperiously at that.

Anchored by reigning MVP and DPOY Andrew Bogut, the Kings hurt teams from everywhere, utilising speed, athleticism and a sound structure at both ends of the court.

No greater evidence of that was on display in Sydney's whipping of nemesis Melbourne United last weekend.

Generally speaking, for a rivalry to exist there needs to be a semblance of parity between the teams.

But rest assured, given United's heretofore dominance of its northern combatants, the Kings openly seethed at the lopsided nature of their dismal record against the 2018 champs.

So it would have been particularly gratifying for coach Will Weaver and his staff to see the Kings come out snarling in a game that became readily apparent was a no-contest.

Don't let that final 111-101 scoreline disabuse you of Sydney's utter dominance throughout; this game was over long before the final buzzer mercifully sounded for United.

Lords of all they survey, the Kings stand astride the NBL ladder with a stunning 11-1 record, their lone blemish set right with Sunday's punishing win.

But they face an interesting road-home double this round against Perth and Cairns.

The Wildcats will be very keen to erase last round's dismal display at RAC Arena against Adelaide, while the Snakes have won three of their past four, notably smacking both Perth and Melbourne.

In a boost for the title favourites, Kevin Lisch will make his return from a serious ankle injury that has prevented him from taking the court since Round 2.

Should Sydney win both, it just reinforces how the line about going hard or going to Sydney, displayed prominently at Melbourne Arena, takes on a new and distinctly ominous meaning.

The Kings are going hardest now.

2 - Triple ton for CG43

Melbourne United star Chris Goulding plays his 300th NBL game against the Adelaide 36ers at Melbourne Arena on Saturday.

It's been quite the journey for Goulding, who started his long professional career at an early age, turning out as a highly precocious teenager for the senior men's Southern District Spartans team in the ultra-competitive South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL).

It wasn't long before he was plying his trade in the big league, first for Brisbane in 2007 before heading to Perth, Gold Coast, and finally to Melbourne, suiting up for both the Tigers and United in what has become a highly successful playing career.

In addition, Goulding has been a diligent member of the Australian Boomers squad, often playing a prominent role on depleted squads earning qualification for major tournaments.

Coincidentally and somewhat poetically, his 300th game comes against the coach who first gave him a taste of NBL ball, Joey Wright.

The 2018 Larry Sengstock medallist will need to be at his offensive best against a 36ers outfit that has won three of its past four games and is menacingly eyeing off United's spot in the top-four.

3 - Steadying the good ship SEM

The Phoenix answered some searching questions about their mettle in the best way possible.

They won.

On the road.

In their best performance in weeks, South East Melbourne withstood a fearsome second-quarter barrage from the Bullets before pressing their foot to the floor after half-time.

The Phoenix blew the doors off Brisbane, outscoring their hosts 57-34 over the final 20 minutes to once again hit the century mark in a 110-95 win that was as impressive as it was comprehensive.

It's a win that couldn't have come at a better time for the league newcomers, who play host to a Perth Wildcats outfit that will - as mentioned previously - still be smarting from their home humiliation at the hands of Adelaide last round.

The Phoenix will have their own ideas of revenge as well; the Wildcats curb-stomped SE Melbourne by 31 points in Round 4, comfortably the worst defeat in the franchise's short history.

Notably, look for Phoenix stars Mitch Creek and John Roberson to perform as advertised, rather than their abysmal offensive showing against Perth last time around.

The key for the Phoenix? Offensive firepower - and lots of it. SE Melbourne is unbeaten in its five games when scoring 100-plus points. In the six games they've been held under the century mark? A disconcerting 1-5.

It's a stat both Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell and his Perth counterpart Trevor Gleeson would both be well aware of.

4 - Mid-table mayhem

Whoa, check out that traffic jam in the middle of the NBL standings.

Just two-and-a-half games separate second-placed Perth from the Brisbane Bullets, who sit seventh.

It's a logjam that doesn't look like being sorted anytime soon, and speaks once again to the relative evenness of the competition - the Sydney Kings notwithstanding.

Written off by all and sundry after the opening rounds, Cairns has roared back into playoff contention; indeed, the FNQ franchise would be ensconced in the top-two if it hadn't flagrantly dropped every game it has played thus far against lowly Illawarra.

Likewise, their Queensland counterparts would also be inside the playoff bracket if not for what may yet prove to be some costly defeats in what appeared to be eminently winnable games.

The 36ers have bounced back from their own baffling form slumps to destroy Perth at home; if they repeat the dose against United they'll be in the top four at their host's expense.

5 - Ball the news that's fit to print

The Hawks giveth and the Hawks taketh away.

Hot on the heels of Illawarra FINALLY announcing the signing of replacement import Darington Hobson, phenom playmaker LaMelo Ball has been ruled out of the Round 10 clash with Brisbane.

While being more a precautionary measure than anything else, Ball's foot injury, suffered during a training session, means one of the more intriguing questions of Round 10 - can Ball compile a hat-trick of triple-doubles? - will remain unanswered for at least this week.

No NBL player has ever had three straight, with Ball the only one of four players to have back-to-back trip-dubs to have done it in the 40-minute era.

And while it's an impressive accomplishment in itself, Ball's second triple-double stood in stark contrast to his superlative effort a week prior.

Ball added 12 boards and 10 assists to his 25 points, but it was an improvident performance from the young phenom, with an uncharacteristic six turnovers and a woeful shooting percentage from beyond the arc, hitting just one of his 11 attempts from international waters.

And ultimately, the Hawks lost to fellow cellar-dwellers the New Zealand Breakers, who harrassed Ball at every opportunity and attacked his lax defensive efforts, an area in which he had made great strides in recent weeks.

Ball's superlative development has been impressive to watch, even allowing for the expected growing pains, but Illawarra desperately need him to be its guiding hand down the stretch, something the Breakers negated particularly effectively.

The Hawks head to The Armoury to take on a Bullets outfit that has slumped badly of late, with only a Lamar Patterson game-winner separating it from a five-game losing streak.

It will be an interesting start for Hobson, a 32-year-old swingman who was a 2010 second-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Hobson is the long-awaited replacement player for NBA veteran Aaron Brooks, who suffered a devastating and likely career-ending Achilles tear in Round 4.

The Hawks may yet sign more players, with reports the league has put the acid on the franchise to get Ball some added offensive firepower to ease his workload.

As ever, watch this space.