AIR21 has started its thrice-a-week practices as it trains its sights on a higher playoff seeding in the PBA’s season-ending Governors Cup which kicks off on August 14.
Twice this season the Express wound up as eighth seeds, losing at the quarterfinal stage to the top seeds and eventual champions both times, but coach Franz Pumaren believes his team is capable of going up the playoff ladder.
Air21 bowed to Talk ’N Text during the Philippine Cup’s quarterfinal knockout match, before being beaten by Alaska in the Commissioner’s Cup. Talk ’N Text went on to win the Philippine Cup, while Alaska captured the Commissioner’s Cup crown.
But Pumaren seems to have found renewed confidence, with Air21 more than doubling its winning output this season after a dismal five-win total in all of last season.
“Our modest goal this coming conference is to at least play in the best-of-three playoffs. We don’t want to be in the twice-to-beat disadvantage,” Pumaren told Spin.ph.
The Express won five and six games, respectively, during the Philippine Cup and Commissioner’s Cup.
Despite falling short in the first two conferences of the year, Pumaren said he’s got reason to be confident with the return of import Zach Graham, who averaged 37.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists for the Express in last season’s Governors Cup.
“Zach is arriving around July 17. And he’s coming from a league in Turkey. He brings in the scoring our team badly needs para may kasama na si KG (Canaleta),” added Pumaren, whose team trains at the Gatorade-Hoops Center in Mandaluyong City.
The 6-foot-5 Graham is coming off a 33-game stint with the Maliye Milli in the Turkish league where he averaged 14.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists.
Pumaren said Air21 management isn’t discounting the possibility of exploring possible trades during the two-month break as long as it boost the team’s stock in time for the Governors Cup.
“Basta naman may magandang opportunity for the team to improve, okay 'yun (trade). We are looking for a big man to fill in the spot we need, plus another two-guard for additional scoring,” said Pumaren.