Perth Wildcats have continued to overcome the absence of NBL MVP Bryce Cotton with an 81-67 statement victory against Sydney Kings at RAC Arena.
The two-time defending champions choked the Kings with a masterful defensive performance on Thursday to issue a reminder to those writing off their chances of a hat-trick of titles.
Cotton, the reigning MVP, underwent emergency surgery on Sunday after suffering a haematoma to his left quadriceps with the club conceding that his season might be over.
But the Wildcats won their second straight game without him as Todd Blanchfield (23 points), John Mooney (19 points and 10 rebounds) and impressive youngster Luke Travers (16 points and 8 rebounds) stepped up against fifth-placed Kings.
Mitch Norton completely blanketed Kings star Casper Ware, who finished with just one point.
Jarell Martin (20 points) and Jordan Hunter (14 points and 10 rebounds) tried hard for the visitors.
Second-placed Wildcats (25-9) are guaranteed a top-two finish and put pressure on league leaders Melbourne United (25-7) for the minor premiership. The teams clash in a final round blockbuster in Perth on June 4.
The Kings' (16-17) playoffs hopes were dealt a blow and they are mired in a four-team tussle for the final two spots in the top four.
"It was a good statement game for us," Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson said. "That was Wildcats basketball and it was great to put it out on the court."
Without league leading scorer Cotton, the Wildcats went inside the paint to Mooney who scored eight of his team's first 12 points.
The Kings had the answers until Jesse Wagstaff, playing his 380th game to equal club legend Shawn Redhage as the Wildcats' second most experienced player, nailed a pair of three-pointers.
Controlling the tempo, the Wildcats frustrated the Kings in a dominant second quarter with Norton shutting down Ware.
Blanchfield, in contrast, scored buckets easily to fuel the Wildcats' spectacular 14-0 run en route to a 53-38 lead at halftime.
The Kings played with more urgency in the third stanza but failed to make inroads as Ware's shooting woes continued.
The athletic Travers attacked the rim to ensure the Wildcats had a healthy 72-58 advantage at the last break.
The cold-shooting Kings have become the first team in NBL history to be swept by an opponent over five games in a regular season.