Basketball: Slingers ready for play-off charge

The No. 2 seeds will face Alab Pilipinas in a tight best-of-three ABL semi-finals match-up

The air of excitement and anticipation at the OCBC Arena was undeniable, even though it was a normal training session for the Singapore Slingers.

The players trained with renewed intensity, despite having just gone through a four-month, 20-game Asean Basketball League (ABL) regular season that ended last week.

For this is play-off time, and as the Slingers' second-year American forward Xavier Alexander remarked to his team-mates Kelvin Ng and Wu Qingde during the training: "This is the only time I really want to play, man. This is what I came back for."

The Slingers finished second in the ABL regular season behind the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions and have qualified for the play-offs for a third straight season.

Last year, they came within a game of clinching the ABL title for the first time, but fell to the Westports Malaysia Dragons 3-2 in the best-of-five Finals.

Many of the Slingers who suffered that agonising Finals loss have returned this season, and are eager to have another shot at the title - starting today at the OCBC Arena in their best-of-three semi-finals clash with Alab Pilipinas.

The Singapore Slingers training ahead of their best-of-three ABL semi-finals play-offs against Alab Pilipinas. They are aiming to make a second straight Finals appearance in the hope of winning their first ABL title.
The Singapore Slingers training ahead of their best-of-three ABL semi-finals play-offs against Alab Pilipinas. They are aiming to make a second straight Finals appearance in the hope of winning their first ABL title. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

READY FOR CRUNCH TIME

We're coming on strong and peaking. I expect myself to come out with a lot of energy and leadership.

XAVIER ALEXANDER , Singapore Slingers star forward, feels he's hitting peak form ahead of their ABL semi-final play-offs against Alab Pilipinas.

The two sides split four closely-fought games between them in the regular season, and Alexander knows that every Slingers player has to be at his sharpest to beat their Filipino opponents.

The 28-year-old has hit a purple patch of form ahead of the play-offs, becoming the first ABL player to register two triple-doubles in a season, both against Kaohsiung Truth from Chinese Taipei (on Feb 26 and March 12).

Said the 1.98m-tall player: "It gives me a lot of confidence to perform in those games leading up to this. We're coming on strong and peaking. I expect myself to come out with a lot of energy and leadership.

"We've been able to go back to look at the clips to see how we can repeat our success in the play-offs."

The Slingers began this season brightly, leading the league in the opening two months. However, poor form dogged the Singapore side as they limped towards the end of the regular season, with injuries taking their toll.

Wu and Ng are out for the play-offs after undergoing surgery on their right and left knees respectively.

Key players Wong Wei Long and Ng Han Bin are back in training with the team, but face a fitness race after suffering mild concussions in the final two regular-season games.

Coach Neo Beng Siang has cut down on training, finishing an hour earlier than usual on Thursday.

The tactician said: "We need to be focused on fine-tuning our tactics. It's not about stamina now. I want them to come out fresh with energy and produce quality performances."

He has also emphasised the importance of being defensively tight, as they cannot afford to let slip big leads in the highly-competitive play-offs.

The Slingers took their foot off the pedal several times in the regular season - notably relinquishing a 20-point lead to lose 71-73 to the Long Lions on Feb 5.

Similar slip-ups will be punished by Alab, who have beaten the Slingers in their two most recent encounters (76-74 on Jan 13 and 64-62 in overtime on Feb 12).

With new signing Kiefer Ravena - a member of the Philippines' national basketball team who have won the last three SEA Games golds - making his ABL debut today, it is no wonder that Neo has insisted: "We need to finish our games well rather than lose our leads yet again."

Yet, as the play-offs nears its commencement, Slingers captain Desmond Oh believes that they are ready for another title tilt, adding: "We've worked a lot more on our defence." Centre Delvin Goh said: "I'll have to defend and do whatever I can to stop them."

S'PORE SLINGERS V ALAB PILIPINAS

OCBC Arena, StarHub Ch112/205 & 76.25MHz, 4pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Slingers ready for play-off charge'. Print Edition | Subscribe