With a pair of huge wins, NLEX and Alaska charted their paths toward a collision course. And it won’t be an ordinary elimination round game when both teams clash on Monday in the PBA Philippine Cup.
It will be “a game important for them and important for us,” NLEX coach Yeng Guiao told reporters on Friday at Angeles University Foundation.
Somehow, a late tournament run by NLEX significantly upped the value of the game against Alaska. That run was capped on Friday night by a huge 124-92 dismantling of defending champion San Miguel Beer, the Road Warriors’ third straight victory that had Guiao suddenly looking at his squad’s stint inside the bubble as something more than just training camp.
“Mathematically, we could still advance [to the playoffs]. But at the back of my mind, the biggest question is can we sustain this?”
“Yes, we’re building some momentum, but at the same time, I’m wondering if it’s not too late.”
Alaska, meanwhile, repulsed NorthPort, 102-94, and will go into the NLEX match with more than just momentum.
“We talked about playing the right way in the couple past games and I’m really proud of the fact that they did that today,” said coach Jeffrey Cariaso, whose Aces could have been positioned better had it not blown a game to Barangay Ginebra last Tuesday.
“A lot of the guys contributed whether it’s two minutes or 22 minutes,” he added. “They played together. They played the right way.”
The win was the Aces sixth in 10 games. The Road Warriors, meanwhile, notched their fourth win after getting stuck with one victory for so long, Guiao decided to adopt a “training camp” mindset with an eye toward preparing for the future.
But a dominant show against the Beermen may have changed that outlook.
The Road Warriors dropped the Beermen—winners of the last five stagings of the league’s most prestigious tournament—inside holes as deep as 38 points.
Leading the charge was Kevin Alas, who poured 11 of his total 19 points as soon as the opening bell rang. Mike Miranda finished with a team-best 22 points, while four more chipped in twin-digit scores.
Guiao understands that he caught an already watered-down San Miguel squad at an opportune moment.
“We’re massively lucky that they’re undermanned and tired when we faced them,” Guiao said of the Beermen, who also missed Marcio Lassiter on the last minute due to a calf strain.
“We had one game plan going into this game: Just push the pace. We just hope to run up and down and see whether they still had the legs,” Guiao admitted during the postgame presser. “It just so happened that they were quite in a bind.”
The Beermen, already missing six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo and potent scorer Terrence Romeo, had to turn to its bench for the most part due to their starters already playing heavy minutes in a severely compressed tournament where teams sometimes need to play back-to-back.
“San Miguel’s so used to using just seven or eight people,” Guiao pointed out. “They are vulnerable to a burnout.”
NLEX, which is eyeing a quarterfinal spot, will have a few extra days of rest before the crucial duel versus the Aces, who are hoping to land in the Top 4 and collect a twice-to-beat bonus.
“There’s a slim chance,” Cariaso said of tabbing that crucial playoff protection. “But we’ll take this win and just see how the other games play out.”
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