Phoenix determined to push on despite dwindling postseason hopes

With time running out on their postseason hopes, South East Melbourne held a thorough film session followed by one of the most physical practices they've held all season.

Blowing an opportunity to keep pace with Illawarra, the Phoenix were outworked by Adelaide on Sunday in a brutal loss to a 36ers squad already out of playoff contention.

"From a coach's standpoint you think of ways you could have changed things. When we've had a poor game like the Adelaide game, you're going through virtually every play asking what you could have done," head coach Simon Mitchell told ESPN.

"Sleep hasn't been my friend, but we had an unbelievable training session yesterday, an amazing film review, it was very thorough, very honest, and I slept pretty well after all that."

Two games behind the Hawks in the loss column entering Round 18, SEM have lost five of six after starting NBL22 with an 11-5 record. Mitchell pointed to physicality as the issue, with the 36ers outrebounding the Phoenix 47-35, while holding a 20-14 edge in second chance points.

"It was a repeat performance; it wasn't the first time we've been found out from a physicality standpoint. (We reviewed) every clip that we missed an assignment, whether it was part of the scout, general play, a box out, whether we weren't working hard enough, we cut the film, showed it and talked about it.

"Guys own it, there's not much you can do when the film is staring you in the face. It's not so much about owning it, players are pretty good at putting their hand up, it's what are we going to do now and stop it from replicating. We had an amazing session after that, it was very physical, nobody took a backward step, and it was probably the best training session we've had all year to be honest.

"We've put it on the table. Enough talk. We're done with talking, we want to see action. The sessions this week we saw the action, so that builds confidence that we can turn this around and I think it helps the players. We've been talking all year but if we take pride in the little things the big things will look after themselves and I don't know if we've been doing that from day dot this season to be honest."

Star big man, Zhou Qi is expected to return to the floor on Saturday night in Cairns after participating in practice during the week, while import Brandon Ashley will be hoping to find a way to stay out of foul trouble. The midseason signing has picked up at least four fouls in 11 of his 17 appearances, fouling out in five, while averaging 8.2 fouls per 36 minutes.

"There's been a lot of conversations and video sessions discussing how we keep him out there. There's been a number of ways he's got into trouble, initially it was moving on the on-ball screen, then once you're in the gun, you're in the gun. There were some line ball ones, and he wasn't getting away with it where some other guys would.

"I think in the Adelaide game it took its toll emotionally. I had a chat with him yesterday about it and I think he felt the extra responsibility with Zhou not being there. I think he picked up an early foul against Adelaide and it all unravelled."

With so much on the line against Adelaide, the performance was head scratching to say the least, though Mitchell maintains the group is still invested on the challenge ahead.

"I'm not concerned with the guys and their buy in. You come off a game like the Adelaide game and the natural assumption is that the guys have quit. The last two training sessions have revealed that there is a lot of care in the group, when we were watching the video there was some real embarrassment and some real remorse. If you don't care, you don't have those feelings."

Entering NBL22 with championship aspirations after falling just short in the semifinal series against Melbourne United last season, failing to reach the playoffs could be seen as a step back for the young franchise. With the team since day one, Mitchell is yet to secure a contract for next season.

"If we win enough games everything will be fine, if we don't, I know this is a performance-based industry. I'm not shying away from us underperforming to people's expectations, we certainly haven't performed to ours because ours would be higher than others. I'm not too concerned about all that, it will come out in the wash and that's part of the profession. My primary concern and where my efforts are going is to make us better."

In addition to Mitchell, Mitch Creek's future is also unknown, with the 29-year-old set to become a free agent at season's end.

"We're tied at the hip from a player and coach standpoint. His negotiations will take place with him and his management and the club. I know that I have 100% trust in him, and he has 100% trust in me, and we go into this together. What happens, happens, it's not bearing on where we're at right now."

In many respects, the end result is now out of South East Melbourne's hands, with other results also a key ingredient for a return to the playoff mix. Regardless, Mitchell expects hard-nosed play the rest of the way.

"I think the mindset will be right, I think the bodies are getting better and I go in there confident that we'll see a recommitted and a brand of basketball that we'll be able to walk off the floor and say we are proud of that. We haven't always been able to say that and that's where the real disappointment has been the last couple of weeks. We can do better, and we have to do better."

If they don't, the season might be effectively over by the end of this weekend.