Home-court advantage in the Asean Basketball League (ABL) play-offs and the top seeding are no longer in the hands of the Singapore Slingers after they fell to archrivals and fellow title contenders Malaysia Dragons yesterday.
The 80-89 loss at the OCBC Arena dropped the table-topping Slingers into a tie with the Dragons in the six-team ABL. Both sides have an identical 14-4 record.
Should both win their two remaining regular-season games, the Dragons will finish ahead of the Slingers thanks to a better head-to-head points difference.
Finishing top of the ABL will mean an easier semi-final play-off tie against fourth-placed Saigon Heat (8-10) and home-court advantage in the five-game series final.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang did not hide his disappointment with his players' performance.
The Singapore Slingers were outscored 38-58 by the Malaysia Dragons in the paint, no thanks to the 2.08m centre Reginald Johnson, who led all scorers with 33 points.
He said: "It (the top seeding) was all in our hands and we threw the game away... Today we didn't play as a team, especially in offence.
"We did a bad job on our one-on-one containment and let (Filipino-American guard Jason) Brickman drive to the basket and do what he wanted."
The home defeat was the Slingers' second in nine days, after winning 10 straight games between late November and January.
Neo denied that fatigue was a factor but added that his defenders failed to cope with the physical strength of opposing centre Reginald Johnson, who used his 2.08m and 132kg frame to good effect as he led all scorers with 33 points and 17 rebounds.
Said Neo: "We need to come up with a plan to deal with him in the play-offs. He had too much space."
Not only were the Slingers outscored by 20 points in the paint by the visitors, they were out-rebounded 33-47 as well.
The tense game, watched by 600 spectators, was filled with niggling fouls and held an edge owing to the bad blood developed in the teams' previous encounter last December, which saw a bust-up and members from both teams fined and suspended.
At one point in yesterday's opening quarter, Dragons coach Ariel Vanguardia had to be restrained by Johnson for protesting a call from the referee.
Said Vanguardia: "They embarrassed us at home in the last game and they disrespected our player so it's payback time and that happened today. It was an important win for us but we still have two games left and that's our focus."
The Dragons travel to face defending ABL champions and third-placed Hi-Tech Bangkok City (13-5) on Wednesday.
The Slingers take on Thailand's Mono Vampire on Friday before their final game against the Saigon Heat at home on Sunday.