Ahhh the fate of an expansion team.
After resisting expansion for the better part of a decade, the PBA added two legit teams (not counting NLEX since the MVP-backed team decided to purchase the Air21 franchise) in Kia and Blackwater. With the rest of the PBA teams drawing a hard-line and not allowing either team any direct hires, expectations for the two teams* have naturally been low.
*Anything more than 2 wins by either team would be a major accomplishment.
Kia has already registered one win this season, overcoming a 15-point deficit against Blackwater. And with Barako registering it’s first win this season against the Sorento, the question to ask now is, will the Elite be able to join them in the win column and book a victory this All-Filipino conference?
Here’s a look at the remainder of their schedule and probability that BWE will pull off an upset (from least to best chance)
Why they might win: Let’s put this is way – this is the last playing date of the season. If Blackwater has zero wins by then, what would be a better motivation to get over the hump other than knowing it’s their last chance to pull it off?
Why they probably won’t win: By the same token, the Beermen will most likely be locked in a tight race for a top two spot, which would given them outrage passage to the semis. With that on the line, you can bet your bottom peso that Coach Leo Austria’s boys will be ready to take care of business.
Why they might win: If TNT gets caught in traffic on the way to Binan, Laguna and half their roster is late, BWE could establish a nice lead entering the half. But even then, it would be tough for them to hang-on.
Why they probably won’t win: If not for squandering an 18-point lead and losing on a last-second shot, TNT would be the no. 2 team in the standings. This team is loaded at every position, with vets like Castro, RDO, Fonacier and Reyes showing their experience and savvy. Meanwhile, rookies like Alas and Rosser have blended in quite nicely. As a result, TNT has posted a point differential of 9.8 points per game, putting them third in the league. This is just too much for BWE.
Why they might win: Purefoods hasn’t quite played up to championship form and this is quite evident in their defense. They’ve put up a defensive rating of just 101.0, putting them at 10th in the 12-team league. The toll of winning four championships in a row and losing one of their young cornerstones in Ian Sangalang seems to have sapped some of their energy. If BWE can get up and down the floor and push the pace (BWE is #5 in terms of pace, while Purefoods is last), they may stand a chance
Why they probably won’t win: Tim Cone’s teams are naturally slow starters. They just picked up a nice win against NLEX last Friday and looked more like themselves. Besides, the talent gap between the two teams may just be too much to overcome, regardless of who’s on the court for Purefoods.
Why they might win: Similar to Purefoods, NLEX’s defense hasn’t been quite up to par. With Faundo shooting lights out from mid-range (53%), Taulava & Co. will have to respect him and step outside the paint, opening up driving lanes for Menor & Nuyles. Also, outside of starting five, there aren’t any big threats, giving BWE the chance to create mismatches of their own.
Why they probably won’t win: NLEX is the number one team at drawing fouls (25.4% foul rate – one fourth of all their possessions result in a trip to the free throw line). More free throws means less opportunities to run, and so far, BWE has really struggled on offense in the half-court. Overall, the Elite ranked 2nd to last in offensive effective FG% (41.3%). The schedule also doesn’t favor the elite, as they’ll only have two days to prepare for NLEX while the Road Warriors will have a full week to scout and rest their legs.
Why they might win: This game looks like Boss Dioceldo Sy’s best chance to register a win this season. First, before the win against Kia, Barako was posting up a league-worst point-differential at -16.4 points per game, boosted by 4 double-digit losses. The team also has worst FTR% and EFG% rates than Blackwater.
Second, the schedule would appear to favor the Elite. After playing on the 21st against NLEX, the Elite get full days to recover, scout and prepare. Meanwhile, Barako will be coming off a tough road game at Binan on the 23rd, giving them just two days to prepare.
Third, I’m pretty sure that coach Leo Isaac has this game circled on his calendar as the game with the biggest chance to win. As of November 15, 2014, the bulk of Blackwaters’ offense came from drive plays (to the basket and drops/ kicks), compiling just under one-third of all their possessions. On these plays, Blackwater was shooting 43%. Meanwhile, Barako was giving up a defensive FG% of 53% on all drive plays. This looks like a match-up that could perk up BWE’s half-court offense.
Why they might not win: With the opportunity to book at least a play-off spot with a win, you can bet that Barako will be going out for the kill. Ball screens are an important part of their offense and if the young guns of BWE can’t stop this, they could be in for a long night.
Verdict: Blackwater pulls off an “upset” of Barako Bull