THE Taipans' once-unlikely path to the finals has been made perfectly clear and they have an unexpected fan in Marty Clarke, the Adelaide 36ers' coach full of optimism when talking about the side's chances in a potential play-off series.
The Snakes beat his side by three (76-73) on Friday night in Cairns and despite losing to Perth on the road (70-53) last night, only have to beat Melbourne in Cairns this Friday to secure a top-four spot.
Their miraculous journey from potential wooden spooners to fringe finalists was made easier yesterday when arch rivals Townsville did Cairns a favour and edged out the Tigers.
A win against Melbourne next weekend means Cairns will stay in fourth place and play minor premiers and two-time defending champions New Zealand in a three-game home and away series to qualify for the final.
Clarke backed the Taipans to create some headaches in a finals series agains the Breakers, saying the structure of the post-season created an opportunity for the underdog to have a crack.
"I do think those two teams (New Zealand and Perth) are ahead of everyone else. but they are vulnerable on any given night," he said.
"Anyone can still win it. The difficulty would be beating those teams twice. That's where it becomes a bit more difficult, but the way it's structured, if you jag a win away first up in a three-game series, the pressure is all on them."
The only member of the current Cairns team to beat the Breakers in New Zealand is Aaron Grabau, but they came agonisingly close on their last visit and Clarke did not write them off.
"If they're good enough to get in and get them at home in game one they'd be hard to beat back here," he said.
"I'm sure the place (Cairns Convention Centre) would be loud and orange and a fantastic place to play."
Beating either of the top two sides on their home court has been near-impossible this season though, as the Taipans found last night in Perth, despite taking a lead into the first break.
The Wildcats, in front of more than 10,000 fans at the Perth Arena, halted any offensive flow the Taipans had found in the second quarter and back-to-back triples from Aaron Grabau in the third term only served as false hope.
His efforts made it a three-point game, but a scoring drought from Cairns didn't end until the lead was 12 and from there Perth were safe as houses.
The Taipans stayed one step ahead of Adelaide on Friday night though, surviving several valiant 36ers charges to finally win a close contest on their home court.
It gave them four wins from their last five starts, and meant last night's loss to Perth was effectively a dead rubber.
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Mission is clear: After splitting the weekend's double header 1-1, the Taipans need just to win against Melbourne in Cairns this Friday to qualify for the NBL finals.