The Alaska Aces are a team built on defense. That was clear. Against an NLEX team that ranked above average offensively last conference (98.8 points per 100, 5th best), they’ll have to play it. Anchored around the savvy point guard play of Jonas Villanueva as well as the post play of Asi Taulava, the NLEX Warriors are a team built to spread the floor. Between Ramos (48.6 percent from three), Villanueva (36.7 percent), Borboran (35 percent) and Canaleta (27 percent), the team has enough shooting and talent to surround Asi. In fact, those 4 (Taulava/Ramos/Villanueva/Borboran) and Cardona was the most played line-up in the league last season, playing almost 170 minutes together. That team also took and made a lot of 3PT attempts when they play together (taking 83 3-point attempts, making 33). In all, that lineup was a net +8.3. That, surprisingly, ranks as the 12th best lineup in the league (minimum 20 minutes played).
To me, this game will come down to who wins the game of pressure basketball. NLEX has a problem keeping the ball in play — they ranked as the worst team at taking care of the ball. Meanwhile, Alaska ranked as the second best at forcing those said turnovers. With how awful Alaska’s half court offense is, those easy baskets generated on live ball turnovers before the half court will be huge. Not that NLEX has a stout defense (they were the second worst, trailing just the Barako Energy Cola) but it helps when you’ve lost your anchor on the right block and your best player (yup, I said it). Abueva will have to bounce back from a very uncharacteristic three-rebound game. As inconsistent he is at making shots, one thing you won’t stop getting from Abueva is tenacity, aggressiveness and rebounding — all three were not fully present in their last game. That clearly didn’t set the tone well for the team.
So should their young import, DJ Covington. His most important job right now is to be the communication line between his teammates. He has to be the defensive anchor he was billed to be and direct traffic where they should go, challenge shots that the help of the helper couldn’t contain and rebound. His scoring will come. It’s his defense that will be most important to the Alaska coaching staff
The game was originally set to be played in South Cotabato but after the #Fallen44 massacre, the PBA (rightfully) canceled the game in South Cotabato for security purposes (and being sensitive with the situation at hand).
The game will instead be played in San Juan Arena.
Last but definitely not the least — Alaska has to win this. As a birthday gift. To the Manimal (HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRO!)