SINGAPORE - Yet another late collapse last week meant the Singapore Slingers began the new Asean Basketball League (ABL) season the same way they finished last term: With a loss.
And the concern is they have not woken up from the nightmare of their Finals defeat.
In last season's decider, they were up by 10 points in the final quarter but lost 84-81 to CLS Knights. Last Sunday (Dec 15), the same margin was wiped out and Alab Pilipinas won 90-83.
Ahead of their first home game against the resurgent Macau Wolf Warriors at the OCBC Arena this Sunday (Dec 22), Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang insisted he is not worried about the trend, and backs his team to prove him right.
He said: "I don't think we have fitness or psychological issues. It's the little things we must get right on the court. We made costly turnovers and shot poorly from free throws.
"We made things hard for ourselves, and when we can't stop Khalif Wyatt from making seven three-pointers from nine attempts, five in the last quarter, we are in trouble.
"We never concede 40 points in a quarter like we did that day, so it hurts. But there were also signs from the first three quarters that if we play as a team, we will do well for the rest of the season."
To be fair, before these two defeats, the Slingers lost just twice last season after going into the final quarter with the lead.
Also, the local players may need more time to gel with new imports Marcus Elliott and Anthony McClain after seeing their preparations disrupted by the SEA Games earlier this month.
But they will need to hustle as last season's wooden spoonists the Warriors are looking like different beasts of late, recovering from a 0-3 start to win back-to-back games against contenders Fubon Braves and Macau Black Bears.
Warriors point guard Doug Herring Jr. has been an inspired signing from the Knights and could return to haunt the Slingers, while Scott Ewing has shown his ability from beyond the arc and local centre Cai Chen is always a threat at both ends.
But Slingers power forward Delvin Goh, who poached 12 points and 10 rebounds against Alab, is confident of getting their season back on track with a win.
He said: "It is a long season and the aim is to get to the playoffs and back into the Finals, so last week's loss is not going to get us down.
"Against Alab, we were aggressive in defence for three quarters but slacked off in the last. We must learn from that and make sure it won't happen again."
"We definitely don't want to end the year 0-2 down. We have to learn that we cannot be a one or two-man team. In most games, the imports may cancel out each other, so it is up to us locals to step up in defence and offence."
Coach Neo agreed, and is counting on the likes of forward Leon Kwek (three points), guard Lim Jun Yuan (six points, five rebounds) and Goh to improve.
He said: "Leon has just returned to the Slingers so he is still rusty, JY is one of the fittest and fastest in the team, and Delvin showed what he is capable of, but all of them can still produce more.
"We are happy to return to home court and play in front of our very supportive fans. We want to thank them from their trust, and the best way to do that is to play hard and get back to winning ways for them."
Tickets are available at apactix.com/events/detail/abl-2019-20.