The Sydney Kings are mired in their biggest hole of the NBL season after slumping to a frustrating 98-84 defeat to South-East Melbourne Phoenix at Qudos Bank Arena.
One game after losing shooting guard DJ Vasiljevic for the rest of the season, a valiant Kings fought hard but were didn't have enough firepower to match the league's best offence.
Phoenix forward Mitch Creek was near unstoppable on Sunday, posting 26 points off the bench on 7-14 shooting, including 4-7 from distance and 8-10 from the stripe.
Import Ben Moore compiled 20 points and six rebounds, while Cam Gliddon (12 points), Yannick Wetzell (11 points) and Kyle Adnam (10 points) added scoring balance.
The Phoenix were in control for most of the contest, answering a number of Kings runs before putting the hosts to bed with some key plays from Creek and Wetzell in the final quarter.
Creek in particular had the Kings defence on the ropes, continuing to produce despite being facing serious assault charges over an incident involving a woman last November.
"Very good basketball player, valuable member of our team, leader on the floor and in the clubhouse," South-East Melbourne coach Simon Mitchell said after his team consolidated third spot.
"What he's dealing with, he's dealing with. That's a process that he needs to go through. That's a legal process so I have no comment on that.
"But from a basketball standpoint, he's an extremely important player to this team."
Sydney were led by American forward Jarell Martin's 23 points and seven rebounds, while star Casper Ware did his best to inspire with 20 points.
But with three starters unavailable, the Kings bench was outscored 40-13, leaving Adam Forde's side in sixth spot with a 10-12 record and a tougher task to climb back into the top four.
The outspoken Forde took some blame for what he described as a "bored" effort, adding that their preparations were also quiet during the week due to load management.
"If we're honest and completely transparent, we looked bored, and that was disappointing. Our timeouts, the energy, the bench was boring," he said.
"Our talk on defence was non-existent so we looked bored."
Forde also rued the flat effort in what was a farewell for long-time team manager Laurie Watterson, who has been with the franchise for 34 years.
Australian Associated Press