Phoenix, Vanguardia brace for ‘agonizing’ week


Phoenix head coach Ariel Vanguardia. Photo by Richard Esguerra, ABS-CBN Sports.

MANILA – Phoenix head coach Ariel Vanguardia knows he is in for an “agonizing” week after the Fuel Masters missed out on another chance to secure a playoff berth in the 2017 PBA Commissioner’s Cup last Saturday.

Phoenix dropped a 114-116 battle to already-eliminated NLEX on Saturday night, giving them a 4-7 win-loss record to end the elimination round. It was also their second straight defeat, having bowed to Mahindra in overtime, 121-122, last May 21.

That puts their playoff chances in peril; as of Sunday morning, they were in ninth place, behind Alaska and GlobalPort, and must hope that both of those teams drop their final assignments in order to force a triple-tie for the seventh and eighth spots.

“We got two chances to enter the quarterfinals against teams that are struggling. Ngayon, kami naman ‘yung nag-struggle (Now, we’re the ones struggling),” Vanguardia said after Saturday’s loss, which wasted a stunning 42-point explosion from rookie star Matthew Wright.

The coach admits that the PBA’s week-long break to give way to the SEABA Championship had an adverse effect on his team’s chemistry, especially when it came to defense. 

“Siguro, doon sa long break, nag-relax, and we were playing teams that are below us,” he said. “Doon siguro nagkaroon ng mindset going to the game na medyo hindi maganda.”

(During the long break, we relaxed, especially since we will be playing teams that are below us in the team standings. That’s where we got this mindset that is not so good.)

“But we have to give credit also to both teams. They made crucial changes sa line-ups nila that worked for them in a positive way,” Vanguardia added. “Lalo na itong NLEX – they’re a totally different team. They’re playing like a Yeng Guiao team now.”

Vanguardia won’t deny that the past week has been a difficult one for his team, but the upcoming one will be even tougher as they wait for the results of other teams’ games.

“Agonizing week na ito, dahil you don’t know if we’re out or if we’re in,” he said.

Nevertheless, he is trying to stay positive. Phoenix needs Alaska to lose to Star on Wednesday, and for GlobalPort to drop its game against San Miguel on June 2.

“Everything happens for a reason, and I’m just positive that we’re going to bounce back,” he said.

“Malakas ako magdasal eh. I think triple-tie kami for the seventh to eighth spots, and then we’re No. 7. ‘Yun ang best scenario para sa amin,” he added.

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