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Injuries could hold key to Sydney, Perth's NBL playoff hopes

A Grand Final series between Sydney and Perth was labelled inevitable on day one of the NBL season but injuries could yet be a stumbling block for the two juggernaut clubs in the semifinals.

The Kings and Wildcats will start short-priced favourites to continue the trend of recent seasons and sweep Melbourne United and Cairns respectively in their best-of-three series.

The top qualifiers have prevailed 2-0 in the semifinals in each of the last two seasons.

Melbourne only snuck into fourth place on points percentage, a Chris Goulding masterclass helping them to a 109-90 drubbing of South East Melbourne in the last game of the regular season on Sunday.

They must overcome a Kings side who became the first team to lead the league for an entire season, capped with a perfunctory 16-point win over last-placed Illawarra.

The only doubt over Will Weaver's top-seeded squad is their fitness.

Veteran NBA centre Andrew Bogut finally shook off a back injury to make his return on Friday while two-time MVP Kevin Lisch is just three games back from an ankle problem that ruined most of his season.

Like that all-star pair, forward Craig Moller was handed reduced minutes in his first appearance for three months (ankle).

The recuperating trio will appreciate a near-two week break before the first play-off game.

Weaver believed their respective recoveries had proven a source of inspiration during Sydney's 20-8 campaign.

"When MVP winners and champions are the ones who are hurt and are diligently preparing and getting back in and are working alongside a guy playing his first year of professional basketball in this league, they're looking and watching and listening. That is what carries any program," he said.

Defending champions Perth have their own injury concerns, with star imports Bryce Cotton and Terrico White sitting out the 94-79 win over Adelaide that left them one win short of the Kings.

White is the bigger concern, with last year's NBL final MVP battling a bruised knee.

Gleeson is otherwise delighted his perennial finalists have won six of seven games heading into the post-season.

"You want momentum going into the finals," he said.

"In championships we've won in the past, we've gone through the last weekend playing great basketball."

Cairns look there to be taken, having stumbled badly in the final week of the regular season with heavy losses to Melbourne and Brisbane - the latter a 36-point hammering that nearly gifted the Bullets fourth place.

Taipans coach Mike Kelly believed they would mentally rebound, predicting the opening clash in Perth would be a "dog fight".

NBL SEMIFINALS

PERTH WILDCATS (2, 19-9) v CAIRNS TAIPANS (3, 16-12)

Feb 28, at RAC Arena, Perth

Mar 1, at Cairns Convention Centre

Mar 5, at RAC Arena (if needed)

SYDNEY KINGS (1, 20-8) v MELBOURNE UNITED (4, 15-13)

Feb 29, at Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

Mar 2, at Melbourne Arena

Mar 5, at Qudos Bank Arena (if needed)