Complacency has been the chief culprit plaguing the Singapore Slingers in recent months, as they were knocked off their Asean Basketball League perch by table-toppers Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions.
Last Sunday's much-needed win against Kaohsiung Truth at their OCBC Arena home may have guaranteed them a second-placed finish for the regular season, but captain Desmond Oh stressed that there was no time to celebrate.
The 30-year-old told The Straits Times yesterday: "We are not like last year's team, when we were hungry for everything. We became contented with being in second place and played quite sloppily."
The drop in energy and intensity has been apparent after the Slingers beat Kaohsiung on Feb 3 and stretched their lead at the summit to 9-2. They lost four of the next seven games, including shock defeats by Saigon Heat and Alab Pilipinas.
With a 12-6 win-loss record and two games left, they will not be able to catch the Lions (15-2), who are on a 10-game winning streak.
Thus, while the Slingers have home-court advantage for the semi-finals, should they meet the Lions in best-of-five finals, the deciding fifth game will be at the Lions' Southorn Stadium in Wan Chai.
Slingers head coach Neo Beng Siang saw his team come within a game of winning last year's finals - they lost 2-3 to Westports Malaysia Dragons - and believes his team must improve quickly for another strong post-season run.
They end their regular season with two games against the Heat - at home on Sunday and at Ho Xuan Huong Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City on March 25.
While their defence allows a league-lowest 73.5 points per game, Neo is demanding more for the play-offs. He said: "Individually, we need to do better on one-on-one containment. As a team, we need to work on our defensive rotation in games.
"When playing a good team, you can't afford to fall back. If you do, then you will struggle. Last season our defence brought us to the final, so we are still building on that."
The loss of power forwards Wu Qingde and Kelvin Lim for the season due to knee injuries has also hurt the Slingers, though new Filipino-American signing Josh Urbiztondo has since settled into the side.
Small forward Xavier Alexander has also stepped up his game.
The Singapore Slingers' win-loss record this season with two games to go before the play-offs.
The 1.98m-tall American notched his second straight triple-double of the season in Sunday's win and will be crucial in the coming weeks.
Oh said: "We are looking for a win in the next few games and build momentum as we go to the semi-finals. We really need to find that fighting spirit again."