Melbourne United have regained top spot on the NBL ladder after defeating the Illawarra Hawks 87-76 to extend their winning streak to eight games.
United led comfortably for the majority of Sunday's clash at John Cain Arena to move one win ahead of the two-time defending champion Perth Wildcats with an 18-5 win-loss record.
Perth climbed to the top of the standings following Friday night's 14-point win over the Hawks but United answered in emphatic style to set the scene for an intriguing battle for the minor premiership over the final seven rounds of the regular season.
Melbourne picked Illawarra's defence apart in the first half as they connected on 72 per cent of their shots to surge ahead 56-42 then utilised their depth to rest their starters through the second half as they cruised to victory.
"It's going to be good for us if we can keep (going) through this next period ... that we can keep challenging our guys just to play at a really high level, get some rest and trust their teammates," coach Dean Vickerman said after the win.
Melbourne found multiple avenues to the basket with backup centre Jo Lual-Acuil leading the way on 15 points, 14 of those coming in the first half with United's bench outscoring Illawarra's reserves 30-0 in that time.
"Having him as a backup big in this league, he's definitely the best one around I would say," United forward Jock Landale said about the 26-year-old Acuil. "For him to keep on coming in and producing is super important for our championship aspirations."
Illawarra coach Brian Goorjian was pleased with the way his squad fought out the game after falling behind by 18 points in the first half.
"(United) are who they are, they are where they are, and we cut (the margin) to 10 but just couldn't get the stops we needed and turned the ball over in crunch time," Goorjian said.
The Hawks have been bumped out of the top four by the Sydney Kings as a result of back-to-back road losses, setting up a pivotal clash between the NSW rivals in Wollongong on Saturday.
Forward Mason Peatling provided an early spark as United came out firing to hit 12 of their first 14 shots, including six-of-seven from three-point range, to close the opening quarter with a 30-21 advantage.
Justinian Jessup poured in eight quick points in the second term to help the Hawks keep pace, but United's bench dominance continued with Scotty Hopson and Shea Ili making successful returns from injury.
Down by 14 at halftime, the Hawks were able to put points on the board in the second half but could not make enough defensive stops to halt Melbourne's momentum.