Rappler Preview: PBA D-League semis begin
The 2013 PBA D-League Aspirants' Cup semifinals begin Tuesday, February 13 at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City with two of the four teams seeing action neophytes. Yet, after making changes to their rosters recently, these teams came up with competitive lineups that towed them to almost the finish line.
NLEX Road Warriors (9-1) vs. Air21-JRU Heavy Bombers (5-5)
NLEX Road Warriors (Coach: Boyet Fernandez)
-- Three-time champion (2011 Foundation Cup, 2012 Aspirants' Cup and Foundation Cup)
-- Clinched outright semifinals seat after topping the league with 9-1 record (only loss came from the hands of Café France, who never made it past the elimination round)
Air21-JRU Heavy Bombers (Coach: Vergel Meneses)
-- First season with the PBA Developmental League
-- Had to beat higher-seeded Big Chill twice in order to advance to the semifinals
When they last met… Their first and only meeting in the elimination round was last November 13, 2012, when the Heavy Bombers almost tripped the heavily-favored Road Warriors after leading by 11 with five minutes left in the game.
However, two costly turnovers from Kenneth Ighalo down the stretch created an opening for the Road Warriors to build on a massive comeback led by RR Garcia.
Former San Sebastian stalwart Ronald Pascual completed a three-point play that gave NLEX the lead, 89-87 with 10.7 seconds remaining. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Why this game is important…
For NLEX: The expectations are high, especially with 70% of their players being a part of Smart Gilas 2.0, which saw Kevin Alas win the MVP award in a pocket tournament in Hong Kong last month.
For Air21-JRU: A win over their more fancied foes will definitely boost the confidence of this team gearing up for NCAA Season 89. While they have proven their worth with a Final Four berth, a takedown of the D-League’s most talented team would build their resume further.
For NLEX: With a powerhouse lineup like theirs, you can’t pick just one player to be the x-factor for this team. Having around eight players who played with the Gilas Pilipinas team under multi-titled coach Chot Reyes, this team can have superstars up to their third unit.
For Air21-JRU: Byron Villarias. The new record holder for most points in a game will be in the crosshairs of Coach Boyet Fernandez and his bevy of able defenders. Whether he scores 36 points again remains to be known, but Villarias will be a marked man who needs to deliver for Air21-JRU to stand a chance.
And the winner is… In terms of depth, talent and experience, the NLEX Road Warriors hands down has the edge. MVPs, Best Player of the Conference, collegiate standouts, you name it and they have it.
The Heavy Bombers, on the other hand, are playing the underdogs’ role. They clearly don’t have that one superstar who has kept everyone glued on Air21-JRU’s games because of his steady game but, as they play David’s role, who knows, they might pull off a trick that could bring a giant down, something they almost did in their one and only meeting so far. NLEX
Blackwater Sports (8-2) vs. Cagayan Valley Rising Suns (6-4)
Blackwater Sports (Coach: Leo Isaac)
-- Clinched an outright semifinals seat after finishing at the second spot alongside topnotcher NLEX
Cagayan Valley Rising Suns (Coach: Alvin Pua)
-- Went winless in their debut last season with a 0-9 record but managed to barge into the semifinals of the following season after stunning Cebuana in the quarterfinals.
Why this game is important…
For Blackwater: They are the higher-seeded team. Since the formation of the PBA Developmental League, Blackwater has not reached the Finals. The Sports, with a handful of UST Growling Tigers at their helm are expected to cruise easily past the Rising Suns, who are relatively new in the league.
For Cagayan: Dreaming of a Cinderella finish, the finish line is not that far. Even with an 84-83 scare brought about by Cebuana last week, the Rising Suns still managed to shake off the jitters in a span of 24 hours and went back to work to outdo the Gems in their quarterfinals series. The darkhorse of the league will work 40 minutes just to stun more spectators if they barge into the Finals.
For Blackwater: Kevin Ferrer. The 19-year old kid out of UST has made heads turn with his remarkable performances in the D-League, something they have not seen from the lanky forward in the UAAP. The 6-foot-3 Ferrer can rack up statistics from all departments.
For Cagayan: They say three is a crowd but for Cagayan, A-B-E will be their key. [Raymund] Almazan, [Mark] Bringas and [Chris] Exciminiano, three players who have been playing their hearts out every game for the Rising Suns will be the heart and soul of Cagayan when they take on the Sports, one team they failed to score a win over in the elimination.
And the winner is… In terms of depth, Cagayan has a deeper bench. The Blackwater Sports do have Growling Tiger Kevin Ferrer and Jeric Fortuna with them but the latter seems to be inconsistent compared to the former. The Sports also has veterans like Robby Celiz, Ian Mazo and Pari Llagas. Over at Cagayan, their A-B-E will not have a problem as former Southwestern University star Eliud Poligrates is just waiting in the wings to tap their hands and give them a hand to help lead the Rising Suns at any given time. Cagayan. - Rappler.com