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PBA: NLEX’s trust on Guiao paying off

By Jerome Lagunzad

Games Tomorrow
(Mall of Asia Arena)
4:15 p.m. — Blackwater vs TNT
7 p.m. — Phoenix vs Ginebra

As he stepped foot on the elevated podium for the traditional post-match interview inside the Smart-Araneta Coliseum press room on Sunday night, NLEX coach Yeng Guiao glanced at a nearby LED TV monitor showing some highlights of the Road Warriors’ latest victory.

“Parang ang hirap maniwala,” he readily admitted, visibly on a high following NLEX’s colossal 103-100 stunner over Grand Slam-seeking San Miguel Beer that further underscored its readiness to compete against the perennial heavyweights in the season-ending PBA Governors Cup.

And it’s quite understandable why Guiao, 58, should say so since NLEX gave itself a perfect tonic following a sorry 106-107 decision dealt by resurgent Blackwater last Aug. 18.

More impressively, the Road Warriors clinched a coveted quarterfinals ticket –even at the expense of the erstwhile favored Beermen – that proved elusive in this season’s first two conferences where they finished at the tail-end of the 12-team field.

“We can’t really believe that we’re figuring out in the upper bracket of the standings,” said Guiao as NLEX improved to 6-2 overall and gave itself an inside track for a Top 4 finish which dangles a twice-to-beat bonus in the opening phase of the playoffs.

“At least may sigurado na kaming slot sa quarterfinals. We can look forward to getting into the Top Four and getting a twice-to-beat advantage. I feel na may karapatan kami ngayon na ambisyunin ang Top 4.”

And even more – as long as they can keep their fine form going.

Guiao should have little doubt about that especially after seeing how the Road Warriors showed uncanny poise in the face of the Beermen’s audacious fightback that had SMB wiping out an early 15-point deficit and leading by as many as four.

Veteran gunner Larry Fonacier shone the brightest among the Road Warriors as he drilled in a pair of cold blooded triples, the last giving them enough breathing room 101-97 over the gritty Beermen with 23 seconds to play.

The 6-foot-3 Fonacier, acquired in a multi-team trade late in the Commissioner’ Cup, finished with 16 markers than proved enough to preserve the game-long brilliance shown by import Aaron Fuller (26 points and 22 rebounds) and underline the NLEX’s newfound depth on its local roster.

Fonacier, however, opted to look at the bigger picture. “It means that we’re on the right track of being able to compete at a high level this conference,” he stressed.

Even the likes of veteran big man JR Quiñahan, guards Alex Mallari and Juami Tiongson chipped in ample contributions, leaving Guiao impressed no end, saying: “The rest of the team, I can’t say enough about them.”

Already a seven-time PBA champion mentor, Guiao added he is keeping his main focus on the Road Warriors’ immediate bid—and not on any scenario about the team’s chances of landing a Top 3 pick in next season’s rookie draft.