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Starting 5: Fare thee well LaMelo, we hardly knew ye

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The Best of NBL LaMelo Vol. 1 (0:49)

The best plays from LaMelo Ball's first games in the NBL with the Illawarra Hawks. (0:49)

Round 16 is here and the race for the playoffs is heating up, but the big news is what's happening off the court, with LaMelo Ball's NBL journey now over due to his foot injury.

Here's this week's Starting 5...

1 - Ball don't lie

Fare thee well LaMelo Ball, we hardly knew ye.

The news last night of the Illawarra Hawks wunderkind shutting down his antipodean adventure comes as little surprise.

Ball's management confirmed the NBL Next Star would not play another game for the Illawarra franchise, having not played since December 8 with what has been described as a bone bruise in his left foot.

The star playmaker elicited mixed reactions during his stint in the NBL but one thing is certain; he proved he could more than hold his own against hardened professional players.

There seemed little reason and plenty of risk for Ball to continue playing for the Hawks, who find themselves languishing at the foot of the NBL standings with no chance of participating in the playoffs.

Shutting down now is an eminently sensible decision for Ball, who will almost certainly be a top-three lottery selection in this year's NBA Draft, held in late June.

The versatile Ball averaged 17 points, 7.4 boards and 6.8 assists per game while shooting an anemic 37 per cent from the field and even more insipid 25 per cent from international waters. His long-range shooting remains the biggest flaw in an otherwise smooth package and was something that improved only marginally over the course of the season.

The Hawks now face the final five rounds of the season much as they've done for the past six weeks; with more attitude than talent. It's been a wild ride for both the franchise and Ball, one neither will likely forget in a hurry.

2 - OK Boomers

The strength of the National Basketball League was never more apparent this week with Basketball Australia's announcement of the 24-man Boomers squad for the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup qualification games.

There are more than a few holdovers from the World Cup squad that finished a heartbreaking fourth at last year's FIBA World Cup.

Chris Goulding, Mitch Creek, David Barlow, Cam Gliddon and Nathan Sobey will all suit up against New Zealand in Brisbane on February 20 before heading to Hong Kong for their second game on February 23.

There was some sensible decision-making as well, with no members of the Sydney Kings or Perth Wildcats selected due to the clash with NBL finals action.

Emerging NBL players including Will Magnay, Kouat Noi and Sunday Dech were also welcome selections to a squad that is clearly taking a bigger picture approach, with youngsters Josh Giddey and Tamuri Wigness also getting a taste of national team duties.

With Boomers head coach Brett Brown unavailable thanks to his NBA commitments with Philadelphia, Sydney Kings coach Will Weaver will take the reins, with CJ Bruton and Adam Caporn his assistants.

See the full Boomers squad here.

3 - The damned United

Ok, seriously. What gives with Melbourne United?

This is a franchise in serious danger now of sliding out of the top four.

It's been a less-than-stellar few weeks for the Melbourne franchise, which has dropped three of its past four games and six of its past 10, unacceptable results for a team that has genuine championship aspirations.

The perfect case in point of United's recent struggles is playmaker Melo Trimble.

The former Cairns star has had an absolute nightmare month shooting the ball, misfiring on -- if you can believe this -- his last TWENTY attempts from beyond the arc.

That's right. Zero for 20. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally.

United heads to Spark Arena on Sunday for a clash with a Breakers outfit that is desperately trying to keep pace with the rest of the potential playoff protagonists.

The visitors' vaunted offensive firepower sees them ranked as the highest road scoring team in the competition but that will count for little if they can't get improved production from Trimble, who has been held to single-digit scoring the past three games.

4 - Home sweet home

After four straight games away from the friendly confines of RAC Arena, Perth begins an uber-friendly schedule in the run-up to the postseason.

Starting with the game against the South East Melbourne Phoenix on Friday night, the reigning champs will enjoy five of their final six regular-season games in friendly territory.

It also presents a tremendous opportunity to give new recruit Miles Plumlee plenty of time to gel with his new teammates.

Plumlee enjoyed a quiet debut for the Wildcats last week but showed plenty of signs he will be the athletic scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker Perth has been desperately craving all season.

The game also represents superstar Bryce Cotton's 100th NBL contest.

The two-time champion and 2018 Most Valuable Player has been a consistently electric presence for Perth since his debut, leading the league in scoring twice and also claiming Finals MVP honours in 2017.

For the Phoenix, a tough road double against Perth and then Sydney on Sunday will probably decide their playoff fate.

A friendly early schedule has come back to bite the fledgling franchise in the back end of the season; two losses this weekend will almost certainly spell doom.

The Phoenix are yet to defeat Perth this season and despite having the highest-scoring offence in the competition, don't look likely to break that drought against a particularly stingy Wildcats defence.

5 - Indigenous Round

In a superb initiative, the NBL has announced it will stage its inaugural Indigenous Round from January 29 to February 2.

The league says the round will "acknowledge Indigenous culture and basketball across Australia and New Zealand," and comes on the back of the highly-successful Indigenous game hosted by Illawarra last season.

Much like the AFL's Indigenous Round, all NBL teams have had custom jerseys produced for the occasion, with local Indigenous artists coming up with some amazing designs for the Round 18 games.

As part of the announcement, the NBL also revealed that key members of Indigenous communities will be invited to attend and each game will feature a Welcome to Country, an Acknowledgement of Country, and other Indigenous integrations.

"There are a number of Indigenous players, officials and administrators who've made an important contribution to basketball both in Australia and New Zealand," NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger says. "It's important we recognise these key Indigenous figures in a meaningful and impactful way, while also acknowledging the contribution wider Indigenous communities have made to the game.

"We will contribute proceeds from the sales of the Indigenous jerseys towards the development of young Indigenous players to ensure young male and females have a pathway to pursue their basketball dreams.

"We want to ensure others can follow in the footsteps of players such as Danny Morseu, Patty Mills, Nate Jawai, Paul Henare and Pero Cameron and the many others who've made such a huge contribution to the game both here and around the world."

Indigenous Round commences Wednesday, January 29 when Melbourne United host the Perth Wildcats at Melbourne Arena.