NLEX hasn’t lost in over two months. It also hasn’t played in 54 days.
But rest or rust, the effect of the Road Warriors’ long break doesn’t matter to JRU coach Vergel Meneses, who sees his squad as overwhelming underdogs in the PBA D-League best-of-three semifinal starting on Tuesday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
“Wala akong makitang laban,” said Meneses. “Kahit saan mo tignan ’yung NLEX, grabe.”
It may simply be smokescreen or reverse psychology for his wards, but the statement shows a vastly different outlook from the quarterfinals, when Meneses declared that he has “no doubt about their ability” and that his squad “can compete against any team in this league.”
The Bombers went on to overcome twice-to-beat Big Chill last week, and set up the Final Four matchup with NLEX starting at 4 p.m.
“Subukan lang namin. We will try our best to stop them,” said Meneses, whose wards have won six of their last seven games.
NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez, meanwhile, remains wary of the Bombers, who nearly stunned the Road Warriors in the elimination round.
“If my memory serves me right, JRU was ahead by seven in the final 45 seconds but we rallied and were just fortunate to be able to win,” Fernandez recalled.
NLEX actually completed its comeback from seven points down in the final two minutes of the game.
“In all honesty, facing JRU in the semis is a tough one. They’re a very strong team. Their winning run is a testament to their ability,” he added.
After finishing the elimination round on December 20, NLEX went on a 54-day break as most of its players represented Gilas Pilipinas in tournaments in Dubai and Hong Kong.
“We have not practiced with a complete lineup during that span but, as always, we’ll be ready come game time. I just hope our defense would carry us,” Fernandez said.
Blackwater Sports and Cagayan Valley open their own semifinal match-up in the first game at 2 p.m.
The Elite’s head coach Leo Isaac likes their chances against the Rising Suns, the third-seeded squad which reached the semifinals by beating Cebuana Lhuillier.
Blackwater handily beat the Rising Suns, 93-70, in their elimination-round encounter and Isaac is confident the same formula would work this time.
“We can match up with them. We know their strength and we have beaten them in the elims,” Isaac said. He said discipline – both on offense and defense – will be key in the series.
Cagayan Valley coach Alvin Pua is keeping his cards close to his chest.
“Bilog ang bola. Malay mo, maka-tsamba uli kami,” said Pua.