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NLEX Road Warriors: Succeeding with unselfishness



NLEX is a team full of good pieces that make a great run in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup. In fact, they entered the semifinals of this conference last year with practically the same core, back when the team was known as the Air21 Express.

Mac Cardona

Mac Cardona

This time, they have an excellent one-on-one guy in Al Thornton who can shoot from any spot on the court and finish around the rim. They have a veteran point guard in Jonas Villanueva whose 22.2 percent assist rate is no. 8 in the league among guards. They have a couple of floor spacers like Aldrech Ramos and KG Canaleta who can both hit the three, a huge center in Asi Taulava, and another penetrator in Mac Cardona. With this rotation, the Road Warriors would have made a decent run in the playoffs.

However, the team started flat in this conference, losing four out of its first five games. The Road Warriors shot just 37.1 percent from the field and only had 10.5 assists in those four losses.

A key trend from those first five games, was the lack of ball movement and too much one-on-one and isolation plays. It didn’t work well for the Road Warriors, who were outscored by opponents by 8.25 points in those four losses. NLEX, in addition, is dead last in average assists in the league.

Everything changed when Boyet Fernandez’s troops opted to share the leather and reduce the number of forced shots. The team started rolling and have won five in a row to enter the upper half of the PBA team standings with a 6-4 card. They have locked a spot in the playoffs, and it was their unselfishness that propelled them in those matches.

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“We’re preaching about sharing the ball now, due to the fact that we are the last team in assists in this league. We tried to move the ball around,” Fernandez said after NLEX defeated Kia, 102-86.

“I told Asi [Taulava] to go wrestle PJ [Ramos] inside the post, so he that can’t block shots during penetrations. KG [Canaleta] and Jonas [Villanueva] are playing consistently as well so just hope we continue moving the ball and improve our assists per game.”

Instead of forcing the issue, the Road Warriors would locate the open man and move the ball to make the opposing squad’s defense work. In the six wins NLEX had, they were averaging slightly better from the field (43.8 percent) and in assists (13.7 including 16 APG in the last two wins).

Against Globalport last week, NLEX assisted on 18 of its 35 field goals for a 51.4 percent assist rate, which is above the 49.9 league average. [READ: Canaleta drops 29 as Road Warriors get fourth straight win]

It wasn’t a completely smooth ride against Kia last Wednesday. Al Thornton took a lot of forced shots in the first half in front of defenders which closed him out pretty well. Thornton only had eight points at halftime on 2-for-14 shooting.

However in the second half, coupled with a conscious effort to defend with a lot of energy, the Road Warriors got more open looks at the basket. Thornton exploded for 25 points to finish with 33 overall, and shot 7-for-11 to grab the lead.

Jonas Villanueva also dished out 20 points, five assists, and four steals. In the last five games, Villanueva has an impressive assist rate of 25.84 percent while keeping his usage rate down.

Five Road Warriors finished in double digits against the Carnival: Thornton (33), Villanueva (20), Cardona (16), Lingganay (12), and Taulava (10).

While still the worst team in average assists, the Road Warriors are actually no. 1 in offensive rating (106.3 points per 100 possessions) and if they want to make it deep into the playoffs, they have to keep sharing the rock.

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Yeng Guiao denies using racial slur against Chris Ross



During the post-game of the San Miguel Beermen’s victory over the NLEX Road Warriors, reigning Coach of the Year Leo Austria said that NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao called Chris Ross the “N” word that caused the commotion.

According to Chris, tinawagan siya ng nigger or ganiyan,” said Austria. “I don’t know but that’s what he explained to me because I confronted Chris Ross because he’s one of the most important players in my team.

“But that’s the thing he doesn’t want to hear so nagflare up yung bata so I cannot blame him.”

Guiao though denied that he blurted out racial slurs against San Miguel’s Chris Ross.

“Hindi. Hindi ko tinawag na N-word. Ewan ko kung may nakarinig. Pero hindi,” clarified the fiery tactician moments after their 98-109 defeat, their third straight after starting the 2018 Philippine Cup with two straight wins.

That tussle, according to Guiao, was just filled with trash talking against each other, as he felt the need to retaliate. In fact, Guiao was even caught by the TV camera saying “son of a bitch” towards the Filipino-American point guard.

“Daldal siya ng daldal eh. Eh sa akin naman kapag ganon, siguro respeto nalang. Lumayo ka nalang tutal mananalo naman na kayo,” he said. “I didn’t understand what he was saying, what he was talking about.

“Nakipagtrash-talking din ako sa kanya.”

Furthermore, the 58-year-old was also caught by the cameras flipping the bird — in one quick motion — also against Ross.

“Oo. Kasama na rin yun.

“Pero ano naman eh, it’s part of, siguro, psychological warfare. Malakas din siya mang-asar. Hindi lang naman sa amin. Everytime naman na mga ganoong skirmishes, he also knows what he’s capable of,” the seven-time champion coach furthered.

But more than this scuffle, it really has become a stressful time for Guiao and the Road Warriors. They have now went down to 2-3 in the team standings, and the mentor sees the great need to end this slump immediately.

“We have to arrest it very soon. Ang susunod na laro namin ay versus Rain or Shine sa Friday. So we need to go back to 50 percent win-loss level para at least may chance ka na maka-playoffs. That’s going to be a crucial game for us,” he stressed.

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Kiefer Ravena shocked with Von Pessumal’s shove: ‘I did not expect that at all’



Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal have been teammates ever since they were in high school, winning three UAAP juniors crowns together. They won two championships together in the seniors level and even played together in Gilas. They were inseparable.

Friday evening however, they were playing for separate camps.

Ravena admitted that he never expected a shove to come from Pessumal during the NLEX Road Warriors’ clash with San Miguel Beermen.

In an off-ball situation, Pessumal charged at Ravena, sending the rookie down to the floor with 9:50 remaining in the final frame. He was then whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul, and Ravena sank one from the line.

“I did not expect that at all,” admitted Ravena after the match in which they lost, 98-109 — their third straight defeat after a 2-0 start. “But hopefully Von doesn’t take it personal.

“I’m just doing my job. They won the game.”

Ravena insisted that there wasn’t any physicality between him and Pessumal prior to that, but he thinks that his former Gilas teammate may have gotten irked by his staredown after blocking him on a fastbreak play early in the fourth.

“When that fastbreak happened — the same exact possession na I challenged him, I looked at him, and after that yun na yung nangyari,” said the 23-year-old guard. “But I never instigated something to provoke Von to do that.

“Probably nung tinignan ko siya.”

Moreover, the second overall pick of the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft felt that that incident “started all the commotions during the end game (laughs). Yun yung pinaka-una eh. And with that, the team got fired up and it worked for them.”

He may be right, for the game saw more skirmishes after that: from teammate Michael Miranda kicking Chris Ross to the groin, and with his head coach Yeng Guiao figuring in a heated verbal war also against Ross.

But then, Ravena made it clear that it was never a plan of his to put down somebody, especially someone like Pessumal who he sees as a brother for life.

“You know, Von and I, we go way back. Things like this hopefully don’t become too personal.

“I have no intention na ipapahiya yung tao or sasaktan mo yung tao. Wala namang ganun. Laro-laro lang,” said NLEX’s leading scorer.

It was somehow a night to remember for Ravena, but for all the wrong reasons. After Friday’s loss that sent their card to 2-3, the veteran internationalist now sees the need for him and the Road Warriors to push the panic button.

“‘Di na pwedeng sabihin palaging kailangan namin matuto eh. Pangatlong sunod na,” the second-generation cager expressed.

“Kailangan siguro naming umaksyon.”

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Downcast Chris Ross chooses to stay mum after heated altercation with Yeng Guiao



Through wins or losses, Chris Ross has always accommodated the members of the press asking for interviews and fans requesting for photo ops every after game. But Friday evening, the nine-year pro was despondent.

Visibly agitated with the events that had transpired during the San Miguel Beermen’s tilt against the NLEX Road Warriors, Ross, with his hoodie covering his head, left the Cuneta Astrodome without saying a word.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year had figured in physical play after physical play and verbal exchange after verbal exchange with the frustrated Road Warriors.

Ross and Alex Mallari were both slapped with technicals after a confrontation with 9:06 left. This was just the start of many things to come for the Filipino-American defensive specialist

After knocking down a triple and receiving a taunt from Ross, Michael Miranda was assessed a disqualifying foul for an apparent kick to the groin against Ross with 4:35 left.

The tip of the iceberg came with 1:46 left to play and the game all but settled.

Yeng Guiao and Ross figured in a heated word war that resulted in Ross’ second technical foul for the game. Referees and players from both sides had to separate the two to prevent things from escalating.

San Miguel coach Leo Austria alleged that the fiery NLEX mentor said the “N” word, while some said Guiao called Ross a “bitch”.

Ross finished the game with four points, eight rebounds, and four steals in 37 minutes of action.

For sure, penalties and suspensions will come out of this game.

And it was better for Ross to stay silent.

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Jason Brickman flirts with triple-double as Mono holds off Singapore



After playing his worst game of the season last Sunday against Tanduay Alab Pilipinas, Jason Brickman bounced back, steering the Mono Vampire to a 91-88 road victory over the Singapore Slingers, Friday evening at the OCBC Arena.

The 26-year-old, who finished with just seven points and three assists in their 71-104 loss to Alab, tallied 10 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists. The league-leader in assists did not take a break, playing all 40 minutes.

But it was not a walk in the park for the Thailand-based squad.

Mono led by as much as 22 points, 60-48, with 7:46 left, 16 points entering the final frame. A furious fourth quarter rally by Singapore sliced the lead, turning the game into a single-possession contest with a minute left. The steady hands of Samuel Deguara and Mike Singletary from the stripe fended off Singapore.

Brickman’s compatriot Paul Zamar chipped in 13 markers for Mono.

Since torching Alab last January 3, Filipino-Canadian AJ Mandani has been on a slump, going just 3-for-11 from the field for nine points.

Mono’s World Imports Samuel Deguara and Mike Singletary both finished with 26 points with the former hauling down 18 rebounds. For Singapore, Xavier Alexander paced the Slingers with 29 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.

With the win, the Vampire kept solo third with a 7-4 slate. On the other hand, the Slingers dropped its second straight game since winning against Alab, falling to 5-6.

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