SINGAPORE - There will be little time for bak kwa and pineapple tarts for the Singapore Slingers this Chinese New Year as they focus on finding their feet in the Asean Basketball League (ABL).
After reaching the Finals last season, the Slingers have had a bumpy start this term, losing five of their first eight games to sit third-last in the 10-team ABL.
With a home game against the Saigon Heat on Wednesday (Jan 29), Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang has ordered his men to return to training on Sunday night, the second day of the Lunar New Year, to address issues at both ends of the court.
After averaging 84 points per game last season, the Slingers have slipped to 79 points. Their shooting percentage has also dipped from 45 per cent to 39.7 per cent.
Neo said: "We are not executing our offence well, as we tend to go one-on-one instead of passing and running plays. There are also times when we are taking too long to release our shots.
"We will work on being more decisive and incisive in training, but the players must also do more and put in the extra hours to work on their shooting."
At the other end, the Slingers have conceded 79.8 points per game, slightly more than last year's 78.1 average.
While Neo took pride in his team being able to restrict top-three teams Mono Vampire and Alab Pilipinas to under 70 points in their most recent encounters, he also identified areas that needed improvement.
"We have been struggling against our opponents' screen and roll and if we can't stop that, we have to work on various zone defences and see what suits us."
Slingers captain Desmond Oh felt his team have to improve their mentality, and regain the killer instinct they showed in the 85-64 blowout win over Alab earlier this month.
They were never overpowered in each of the five losses, and had held the lead at some point of the second half, only to be overtaken at the end.
Oh said: "Mentally, we have to be tougher. When we lead by a few points, we should go for the kill instead of slacking off."
Neo added: "Even when calls don't go our way, we cannot lose our focus. This is when we need every player on the court to be a leader, and not just look to Xavier Alexander or the imports for inspiration."
Changes to the roster have also affected the Slingers as they swopped the more athletic John Fields for a bigger centre in Anthony McClain, while locals such as Ng Han Bin and Russel Low have retired and gone on to work in a bank respectively.
Neo said: "We are lacking a bit on pace but Biggie (McClain) is doing well for us in terms of rebounds. He has worked hard since joining us, and lost more than 10kg. And if we can execute our offence well, it will be hard to stop him from scoring more under the basket.
"Our locals have contributed but need to be consistent. Delvin (Goh) has stepped up in terms of rebounds but hasn't scored well in the last two games. At the moment, we don't know when they will step up for which game."
Oh also noted that last month's SEA Games meant that they could not train as much as the others, who had mostly played a few games before the Slingers even started their season. The two squads most affected by the Games were Saigon, who are last, and Singapore.
"But we are professionals and it is our job to get used to whatever system the coaches have in place," he insisted. "It doesn't matter if we play slower this season, it is just a different style of play which can also work. We just need to be more effective.
"There are still 18 games in the regular season and we are definitely not giving up. The defeats only make us more determined to get things right, and we believe we will bounce back strongly for the second half of the season."