WITH NLEX’s big men out, the PBA D-League somehow looks like a level playing field for the first time, at least according to several coaches.
Ian Sangalang has moved to a new team and Greg Slaughter has yet to see action in the Foundation Cup due to other commitments and the Road Warriors are in an unfamiliar territory at the bottom of the standings, winless in two games.
Fruitas sits alone on top of the team standings as the Far Eastern University-backed Shakers hold a 3-0 win-loss record so far.
The games have also become intense, with at least one game during all five playdates reaching overtime.
The most notable surprise, however, has been the slide of the four-time defending champion NLEX, which has won all four championships since the league was born.
“Feeling ko napaka-balanced ngayon,” Cebuana Lhuillier head coach Beaujing Acot said.
The Gems scored a surprise of their own when they beat the Road Warriors, 71-64, on Thursday to join two other teams in third spot with a 2-1 win-loss slate.
The victory came at a time when Slaughter decided to concentrate on his stint with Gilas Pilipinas and his studies at Ateneo. Sangalang has also been released by NLEX in order for him to play with EA Regen Medical Group, owned by his longtime benefactor Dennis Pineda
Acot believes the loss of Slaughter and Sangalang have greatly affected the Warriors’ play.
“’Yung pagkawala ni Slaughter and Sangalang, that really hurt them ... Ngayong nawala sila Slaughter and Sangalang (sa NLEX), lahat puwede mag-dominate eh,” Acot said.
Nash Racela, head coach of league-leading Fruitas, agrees that the loss of NLEX’s twin towers has given other teams a fighting chance of stealing the show from the only team that has won a title in the league.
“It’s a lot easier to dominate games when you have a dominating big men … That was the case with NLEX prior to this conference. But now, it’s different as seen in their first two games,” said Racela.
Boracay Rum coach Lawrence Chongson, meanwhile, said that teams have been unpredictable. For one, NLEX’s other loss came at the hands of the Big Chill Superchargers, who in turn were shocked by newcomer Hogs Breath Café.
“Kala namin noon, libreng panalo ang Hogs Breath. Informatics, natalo two games in overtime. ’Yung Fruitas down 22, nanalo pa sa Cebuana. ’Yung Blackwater down seven, isang minuto nalang, nanalo pa,” Chongson pointed out.
“Maganda ito para sa liga, exciting at good sign para sa liga,” Chongson said.
With NLEX struggling, Acot believes that the teams to beat now also include Fruitas and newcomer EA Regen Medical Group, which has formed a 'twin towers' frontline of its own in Sangalang and Raymund Almazan.
“Nakikita ko Fruitas is a good team. FEU blended together with Fruitas. Pero Pampanga (EA Regen) ang pinakamalakas. Sigurado ’yun kasi andoon si Sangalang and Almazan,” Acot said.
Chongson, however, said it is too early to conclude that things have actually leveled up.
“Hindi mo pa rin masabi na may balance pero siguro medyo maharot ang tadhana ngayong taon na ito,” said Chongson.
Racela, on the other hand, believes that, in time, NLEX will get its bearings back despite a gaping hole in the frontline.
“I think it’s just a matter of time until (NLEX) coach Boyet (Fernandez) sees the solution to this,” Racela said.