AFTER a lackluster 10th-place finish in their maiden PBA conference in the Philippine Cup, the NLEX Road Warriors have vowed to write a better ending to their current campaign.
Already assured of a place in the Commissioner's Cup playoffs with a 5-4 (win-loss) record, the Boyet Fernandez-mentored team is hoping to sustain a four-game winning run to get a better placing ahead of the playoffs.
"We want to stay away from the No. 7 and 8 spots. As much as possible we look to atleast make it to the upper half," said Fernandez, a one-time PBA champion coach with the defunct Sta. Lucia Realtors.
NLEX is also looking to mirror the feat of its predecessor Air21 Express, which finished 10th in last season's Philippine Cup before pulling off a stunning upset against San Miguel in the Commissioner's Cup quarterfinals.
"Of course, that's our goal. If we can duplicate the feat of the old franchise, we will be very happy," Fernanded said. "Pero we're not yet looking past the elimination round. We have a game on Wednesday against Kia, and there should be no room to relax."
NLEX star forward KG Canaleta, the hero of their 94-81 win against Globalport on Sunday, said the team is offering the campaign to company president Rodrigo Franco, who celebrated his birthday last Saturday.
"Syempre, isa na sa inaalayan namin sa mga laro namin si sir Rod. Sobrang bait niya sa amin. Wala kaming nadinig sa kanya when we played below our potential last conference. Kaya sisikapin naming bumawi," said Canaleta during Franco's lunch blowout to the whole team at the NLEX head office on Monday afternoon.
"Target namin mas tumaas pa sa standing. Ngayon kasi No. 5 kami. Sana stay na kami rito o kung puwede, mas tumaas pa," he said as the team prepares for Kia and Barako Bull in their last two elimination assignments.
"Kailangan namin ipanalo 'yun pareho para sure na kami sa best-of-three (quarterfinal pairings)," he added.
Fernandez has one concern at this point: the health of top center Asi Taulava.
The hard-banging ageless slotman is confined at the Cardinal Santos Hospital due to chronic migraine and flu, but has vowed to play in the Road Warriors' game against KIA on Wednesday.
"Syempre, we will need Asi. He's been one of our most consistent big men. He's our top rebounding and defensive threat," he said.
At posting time, Fernandez is unsure of Taulava's availability for the Wednesday game against KIA.