Preseason NBL championship favourites Melbourne United are refusing to use their brutal travel schedule as an excuse for finding themselves in "a little hole" after Sunday night's dramatic home loss to the Perth Wildcats.
Wildcats star Bryce Cotton banked in a long two to stun the home crowd and give the visitors a 95-93 win despite United holding a game-high 85-77 lead with 5:27 remaining on a Melo Trimble made lay-up. From there, the wheels fell off late as the toll of the NBAxNBL tour potentially took hold, with United slipping to a 0-3 record this NBL season.
In a quirk in the schedule, Melbourne arrived home from the US just over 24 hours earlier.
"I was proud, I was proud of the boys for the way they bounced off the plane [but] Mitch [McCarron] started cramping, Shea [Ili] started cramping, everyone gave absolutely everything today and we just weren't good enough but we are so close, and we know we, of anyone in the league, have a chance to get better," coach Dean Vickerman said post-game.
"[We have] put ourselves in a little hole, down 0-3 right now and we need to find a way out."
With the schedule clash between the start of the NBL regular season and the NBA preseason, the now yearly crossover between leagues sent United across the Pacific in the middle of their stuttering start to their campaign.
Despite the troublesome timing of the trip, the players refused to use the travel schedule as an excuse.
"We got our rest yesterday, we came in and went through our scout, went through our shootaround this morning, got what we needed and came out and unfortunately lost," United guard Chris Goulding said.
"We didn't talk about the plane, we didn't talk about the travel, we don't want to - unfortunately, we lost the basketball game."
A disappointed Jo Lual-Acuil told ESPN there weren't many positives to take from the result, before echoing Goulding's comments about the US trip.
"Not really [there weren't any positives], I feel like as professionals you don't take any moral victories out of anything - you either win or you lose and that's kind of the nature of the beast of the professional arena. [The trip] had nothing to do with anything that happened in the game," Lual-Acquil said.
From the outside, it would be easy to question the benefit an NBL franchise gains from the lengthy trip, though Vickerman was steadfast in giving the showcase the stamp of approval.
"I'm a strong believer in how you get better - how you get better as an individual is you play someone better. Anytime this team gets a chance to play someone better than them, we will put our hand up and say, 'we want to do that, we want to challenge ourselves'," Vickerman said.
"That was certainly the message coming off the trip, the travel is the travel, we had business class, they slept well. We had a great opportunity to have a little minicamp over there and so we felt like we got better as a team and there were some signs today that we did get better as a team."
Regardless of the public stance United took in the wake of their latest loss, the cold reality is they currently hold the NBL's worst record and join New Zealand (0-2) as the only winless teams in the league - the Breakers also travelled to the USA in recent weeks.
"I'm sick and tired of it," Goulding said about the mounting losses.
"It's on everyone to be a pro right now, we have got to do the things that can get our bodies and minds in the best physical shape to go into games and claw back, claw out of this little hole that we've put ourselves in."
United will now head into a double-header against New Zealand and Cairns in what could be a season defining Round 4.
"We will keep it fairly light, we will review it tomorrow, practice Tuesday and take a day off Wednesday. We just need to get some load off some guys that travelled. It's going to be important that we manage the load part of it really well and really freshen up some people," Vickerman said.
"I'm looking forward to the next challenge, New Zealand and Cairns on a double. That's the kind of weekend that can change our season if you get both. That's the focus right now."