NLEX tries to ride the momentum of its hot start in the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup as it tangles with Star on Sunday at the Philsports Arena in Pasig.
The Road Warriors caught the last bus to the postseason in the last all-Filipino conference, finishing as the 10th seeded team before losing to twice-to-beat Alaska in the quarterfinals in their first season in the league after taking over the Air21 franchise.
But amid its best start in its young history, having won its first two games, the MVP-backed team seeks to sustain its push to become a quarterfinal early bird.
“We don’t want to depend on the latter part of the season to try to get to the playoffs,” star slotman Asi Taulava said. “We want to get there early.”
Despite their unbeaten start, the ageless center believes most people still don’t see his team as a playoff contender, considering the Road Warriors prevailed against sophomore teams Barako Bull and Blackwater in their first two games.
But he doesn’t mind.
“I feel good that we’re the underdog,” the 42-year-old Taulava said. “Nobody expects anything from us. Everybody thinks that we’re going to get our butts kicked every night.”
“That motivates us, pushes us to play harder,” he added. “The more they keep looking down on us, the better it is for us.”
This time, the Road Warriors face a contender in the Hotshots, who are coming off their second loss in three games, a 101-94 decision at the hands of GlobalPort last week.
Tipoff is at 5:15 p.m. in a matchup preceded by the tussle between GlobalPort and Barako Bull at 3 o’clock.
“They may be one-two right now, but I believe that this team is still one of the stronger teams in the league,” Road Warriors coach Boyet Fernandez said of the Jason Webb-coached Hotshots.
“Hopefully we will not start as bad as we did in the first two games,” he added. “We can’t afford to do that because the Hotshots always play well at the start.”
The Road Warriors overcame early deficits before dispatching the Energy and Elite, respectively, while the Hotshots have put up the opposite, establishing early leads, before fading in the end of their two losses.