PBA Philippine Cup

Phoenix Fuel Masters: Revved up and running

Ariel Ian Clarito
Phoenix Fuel Masters: Revved up and running

THE BEAST. Since his return, Calvin Abueva has been nothing but brilliant for Phoenix.

Photo from PBA Images

Phoenix has turned into a well-oiled machine that is simply a joy to watch on the PBA hardcourt

The Phoenix Fuel Masters hardly figured in the discussions prior to the PBA bubble in Clark Pampanga. They were not considered by experts as among the top contenders in the Philippine Cup. In fact, the only instances the team made the headlines were when it changed coaches and when there was anything newsworthy to publish about the lifting of Calvin Abueva’s suspension.

Going into the tail end of the elimination round, the Fuel Masters have won 7 times and have dropped just 3 games. With one game to go in their schedule, they have a legitimate crack at ending the elims among the best teams in the standings with a twice-to-beat playoff advantage to boot.

New coach Topex Robinson has been able to make Phoenix buy into his vision and system. In the process, he has transformed the Fuel Masters into a well-oiled running, hustling, and passing team that is simply a joy to watch for anyone who appreciates every beautiful element there is in the game of basketball.

On the hardcourt, Phoenix is a team in perpetual motion. It is apparent that the role of each component of the team is well-defined – each player not standing around idly and the ball moving around constantly. 

When they need a bucket, they go to Matthew Wright, who has developed into one of the PBA’s best offensive weapons. Wright leads the team in scoring with 24 points a game. They have RJ Jazul to steady the ship and ensure Robinson’s uptempo brand of play is executed. 

When the shots from outside are not falling, they go to one of the best inside operators in the league, Jason Perkins. Their anchor in the middle, Justin Chua, is playing some of the best basketball of his pro career and is currently the league’s blocks leader with 1.9 blocks per game. 

A more mature, more restrained version of “The Beast” is playing better than ever as Abueva leads the league in assists with 7 per outing, on top of his contributions of 15 points and 10 boards a game. 

All 5 of these players are averaging in double digits in points, a testament to how adept the Fuel Masters distribute the offensive wealth. Add to that a reliable veteran crew made up of JC Intal, RR Garcia, Brian Heruela, Dave Marcelo, Alex Mallari, and JR Reyes and Phoenix might just have in its hands a winning formula that could result in a deep playoff run.

One evident thing that Phoenix does better than any other team right now is the willingness of its players to look for and make the extra pass. The Fuel Masters are averaging a league-leading 25.7 assists a game. They have also shown a keen understanding of the need to space the floor to make their strengths work for them. 

All these have translated to Phoenix becoming the second-most potent offensive team in the bubble as it averages 101.6 points. The Fuel Masters have also utilized the three-point shot as an integral part of their arsenal, which makes sense when your main gunner is Wright, who is one of the league’s deadshots. Phoenix sinks a league-best 13 triples per game and is second only to the TNT Tropang Giga in three-point attempts.

A trademark of Robinson even from his collegiate coaching stint has been applying consistent defensive pressure. The Fuel Masters’ running game emanates not so much from their rebounding since they are not exactly one of the bigger teams in the league, but rather from their peskiness on the defensive end. Their active hands result in 6.5 steals a game. They also are ranked No. 2 in the league in blocked shots. 

Robinson has always been one of the better and cerebral, albeit underrated, basketball minds in the country who merely needed the platform in the big stage to showcase his brilliance. He has stamped his imprint on this Phoenix squad as each player knows his role, accepts his role, and carries out his role with the aim of always helping the team. The Phoenix Fuel Masters continue to get better and the rest of the field better be prepared. – Rappler.com

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