NLEX can record a best-ever start and occupy a lofty slot in the 2016 Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup.
That is, if the Road Warriors can hurdle whatever surprise debuting Barako Bull may have in store in their collision Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Coach Boyet Fernandez’s squad is aiming to follow up its 90-86 victory over Blackwater last Friday, when NLEX bucked nagging cohesion problems and displayed more poise down the stretch to escape the Elite’s clutches.
Barako, however, may prove to be a tougher nut to crack, a possibility that looms since the Energy’s mettle following the retooling coach Koy Banal did in the off-season has yet to be tested in an official game in the season-opening conference.
“I am wary of Barako,” admitted Fernandez, whose team has not had a 2-0 start in its first three conferences with the league.
“I haven’t seen them play in an actual PBA game. We played them in the off-season and we won. But knowing coach Koy he will have something up his sleeve so we just have to be ready.”
Banal does have a stocked arsenal which should enable him to foil NLEX’s bid of joining idle Rain or Shine at the top. To do that, Banal said his crew must take care of business on its own end of the court.
“NLEX has a formidable lineup. They have an inside-outside threat. They can either attack the post or on penetrations,” noted Banal.
“Their opponent will go crazy if they focus on stopping them because you can’t stop a team like NLEX. We just have to take care of our backyard, meaning we want to focus on doing what we are doing from Day One. Nothing special in our gameplan.”
Still, the thought of Barako laying out an ambush is evident.
The busiest among the teams during the offseason the Elite acquired nine new players in former Barangay Ginebra players Josh Urbiztondo, Emman Monfort, Jens Knuttel and Mac Baracael, ex-San Miguel Beerman Jeric Fortuna, erstwhile Star center Mick Pennisi, Jervy Cruz and Prince Caperal from GlobalPort and rookies Michael Miranda and Yutien Andrada.
Caperal and Knuttel have been put on the reserve list leaving the rest to join usual team stalwarts JC Intal, RR Garcia, Willy Wilson and Chico Lanete in stoking up the Barako offense while trying to at least limit NLEX’s lethal frontline built around ageless Asi Taulava and Sean Anthony.
Against Blackwater the 42-year-old Taulava finished with a gamehigh 19 points to go with 12 rebounds while Anthony wound up with a near-triple double of 14 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
Full cohesion is something Fernandez still yearns for since his Road Warriors have barely had time to practice together with a full complement.
“Our team is a team in progress because for now lang talaga namin nakasama si Asi (coming off his Gilas stint) and Garvo (Lanete) and Kevin (Alas) coming back from injuries. Our cohesion still needs improving,” said Fernandez. (NC)