NLEX once again tries to downplay its title chances, but the smokescreen it is trying to create is expected to be blown away right on opening day as the four-time champion takes on Big Chill in the PBA D-League Foundation Cup on Tuesday at The Arena in San Juan.
The Road Warriors and Superchargers face off at 4 p.m. after Cebuana Lhuillier battles Boracay Rum at 12 noon, and following the match between Fruitas and the debuting Jumbo Plastic at 2 p.m.
NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez is using the rust vs. rest argument just two weeks since winning the Aspirants Cup, noting that key players played through pain in sweeping of Cagayan Valley in the title series.
“Pahinga 'yung malaking issue sa mga players ko,” said Fernandez. “I’m worried about the game this Tuesday. Hindi ko sila ma-push dahil six players ko ay playing injured last finals.”
“Hindi rin kami kumpleto mag-practice kasi we have issues na dapat ma-resolve tapos ito nga, laro agad,” Fernandez said.
But just last conference, the team managed to overcome manpower problems to win the title, after Greg Slaughter failed to suit up right away with issues concerning the immigration bureau and several teammates skipping games to see action for the national squad.
Fernandez said Matt Ganuelas and Ronald Pascual had sprained ankles, while Slaughter, Pascual and Garvo Lanete had shoulder problems in the finals. Kevin Alas had a sprained wrist, Borgie Hermida had upper back pain, and RR Garcia had soreness in his calf.
“But credit to our team physical therapist, we played through the pain,” Fernandez told Spin.ph.
Now rivals are even more eager to topple the Road Warriors, still the only team to win the championship in four PBA DLeague conferences.
But Big Chill will be facing NLEX without several of its players from last conference in Rodney Brondial, Jessie Collado, Jonathan Semira, Jam Cortes, and Ryan Buenafe.
“We have lost a couple of key players from last conference but we still have the core of the team,” Big Chill coach Robert Sison said.
The Road Warriors overwhelmed the Superchargers, 91-67, in their lone encounter last conference.
“We had a frustrating performance last conference and we are aching to redeem ourselves this conference. We lost badly to NLEX last conference that is why we have prepared hard and hopefully we can give NLEX a good fight,” said Sison.