THE NLEX Road Warriors expect tough competition from top Middle East sides as well as another entry from the US when they compete in a pocket tournament in Dubai.
The Dubai International Basketball Championships will be participated in by eight teams including the national teams of host UAE and Qatar, Ah Ahli Dubai, two ballclubs from Lebanon and the And One team from the US.
On the eve of the Road Warriors' departure, NLEX team manager Ronald Dulatre said the ballclub is setting the bar higher in its bid to eventually join the pro league's elite teams.
The immediate goal, he said, is to match if not better the Commissioner's Cup campaign last season of Air21, the franchise which NLEX bought and from where majority of its players came from.
Like their predecessors, the Road Warriors finished tenth overall in the All Filipino cup, but Air21 managed to bolt into the semifinals of the import-laced tournament after stunning San Miguel in the quarterfinals.
"Yun ang target ng team, sana maka semis kami. It's a high target, pero the players are up to the challenge," said Dulatre.
The soft-spoken NLEX finance officer said they will use the Dubai trip to further improve the camaraderie of the team.
"Two birds with one stone na kami sa Dubai, we go there to compete and test our skills against the toughest teams in the Middle East, then dito na namin susubukan yung import namin," said Dulatre of import Al Thornton, an NBA veteran who will join the team in the January 15-25 meet.
NLEX is the lone Philippine ballclub that will compete in the tournament after invitees GlobalPort and Purefoods Star begged off for different reasons.
Purefoods has yet to sign an import while GlobalPort decided it is best to stay home as it prepares for the midseason conference beginning on January 27.
With their participation in the PBA-sanctioned Dubai tilt, Dulatre revealed the league has given them a leeway in the coming Commissioner's Cup where they will not play until February 3 against Rain or Shine.
"Sunod sunod na laro namin after nun," he said of a stretch where they will play Alaska on February 7 and Purefoods on February 11.
Dulatre hinted that they are still in the market for a free agent combo guard.