The Alaska Aces look to go up 3-1 against a team that has carried the momentum it got from there tough showing in the Commissioner’s Cup playoffs into this season, the Air21 Express. This is going to be a tough battle because Air21 has the size to matchup well with the Aces.
Defense is the Key
It’s no secret that Alaska is struggling defensively this season. As I said in my post game Alaska’s biggest weakness right now is their defense, contrary to popular belief. They’ve always hovered around the league average (~100 points per 100) and an average defense plus an average offense makes for an average team. But this season, their defense has plummeted — it’s currently at 104.6 points per 100. That’s a significant decline. Lucky for them, their offense (which scores north of 114 points per 100) has been enough to save their floundering defense.
After facing one of the best offenses in the league and escaping with a win (despite a solid offensive output from the Texters), they’ll be facing an easier challenge in A21 (103.4 points per 100). A21 isn’t as explosive offensively as TNT but they’re still a solid 3-point shooting team (currently hitting a third of their three point attempts).
If Alaska plans on improving their defense, it has to start with their 3-point defense. It’s not the fact that they’re allowing opponents to shoot close to 23 attempts per game. It’s the fact that they’re allowing them to shoot close to 37.7 percent from downtown that’s troublesome(about 1.13 points per shot). I get it — they want to pack the paint, make the opponent beat them from outside and keep possessions to one shot (i.e. get the defensive rebound). But they have to strike a better balance. The balance they have now isn’t good enough and this game against A21 (who coincidentally has averaged 23 three point attempts per game over three games) will be a good start in finding that right balance.
A21’s system is full of dribble handoffs. Asi Taulava, in particular, is very adept at making those nifty passes where he doubles as a screener. He’s also gotten quite good at faking that handoff and then facing up and attacking his man in the triple threat position. If Alaska plans to stick to their hard hedge approach, it should be an aggressive hedge bordering on a trap. Make that first pass very difficult. Switching is also out of the question because A21 would then just simply put Asi (or Sutton) on the block and let him work. Another thing that can work to neutralize A21’s pet plays is to play it safe — have their bigs hang back on defense and ice all possible side pick-and-rolls/handoffs. This way, the ball handler’s only option is to pass to the open Taulava/Sutton/Ramos/Camson for the open midrange jumper. Play the percentages and maybe you can get the W.
Better Floor Balance
After those initial triangle action that allows Alaska to get the ball in the post, they like to flare the player situated in the elbow for an easy catch dab smack in the middle of the paint. It’s one of their most run plays. If they want to continue running that play, the key is timing and floor balance. The screening action should not be too close to the post player to allow for easy overloading on the strong side but not too far to make that pass easy pickings for defenders in the perimeter.
Perimeter Players must also situate themselves over the three point line. I’ve seen too many times where Dondon Hontiveros or RJ Jazul station themselves just below the three point line. Moving back a few inches would allow them to get a better shot (3 points vs 2 points).
Lastly, when Abueva is the guy that’ll attack from the pinch post (i.e. the guy who’ll attack from the FT line cross-screen), he must learn to not only find the guy who just screened for him (if his defender shows to block the pass) but also to find the shooters located on the elbows and (especially) on the corner. Abueva for his part has learned how to find his partner on screens. If he can just learn to find his shooters, then the opponent (in this case, A21) will have less of a reason to help while Abueva flails for fouls and layups.
Battle of Mighty Rebounders
Both teams have dominated their opposition in the glass (specifically in the offensive glass). Air21 is outrebounding its opponent by a solid 14.1 percent (i.e. comparing team offensive rebounding percentage and offensive rebounding percentage allowed) while Alaska is at 15.6 percent. Because both teams play at one of the slowest paces in the league (87.3 possession per 48 minutes for Alaska, 90.2 possessions per 48 for A21), it’s going to be a slugfest by every definition of the book (of basketball) — few fastbreaks, tons of jockeying for rebounds and maybe a moderate amount of misses. Which teams gets to
I’m going to go out and predict a win. Alex Compton and Co are riding a new coach high. It’ll wear of soon but I think it won’t be this game.
Alaska goes up to 3-1 with a dominating win against the surging Air21 express.