Melbourne captain Chris Goulding had the best game of his career in Adelaide finishing with 26 points while Shawn Long added 16 points and 15 rebounds but United’s attack was otherwise rushed and disrupted for much of the night.
Early turnovers hurt them badly, continued issues with shooting and decision-making continued to sap them, unless Goulding or Long had the ball.
Melbourne (11-10) have the fairest possible path to the finals as they play every team in the league to close out the campaign, with seven games to play.
What will also concern Melbourne is the continued struggles of import point guard Melo Trimble whose shooting has dropped in the past four games. He had five points and five assists but shot just two of 13 from the field.
Two threes from Goulding had United off and running but the visitors couldn’t match the hustle and energy of the Sixers led by rookie forward Obi Kyei and others as the Sixers controlled the opening term.
Melbourne continued to hamper their own efforts to come back conceding eight turnovers in the opening quarter and they trailed 32-24 at quarter-time.
Sixers stars Daniel Johnson and Jerome Randle were both firing for the home side and helped push the lead into double figures early in the second term.
But United managed to work their way back into the contest to trail by only one before some sloppy errors late in the quarter saw Adelaide leading 53-48 at half-time. While United’s offence was solid, their defence had to improve.
Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman tried to juggle his line-ups and find a group who could bring the team back into the contest but none of them seemed to stick.
The Sixers bench stepped up at the same time as import Eric Griffin’s driving tomahawk dunk pushed the lead out to 70-59 late in the third term.
As good as Adelaide were in the third term, they couldn’t strike the decisive blow and Goulding’s three on the buzzer cut their lead to 79-70 entering the last term.
Anthony Drmic fired up for Adelaide while Goulding kept on shooting and with five minutes to play the lead was down to six points.
But Randle stepped up and knocked down some big shots as the Sixers celebrated a vital win.
Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.