Warming up in style for play-offs
Slingers coach Neo pleased with winning momentum ahead of showdown with Alab Pilipinas
It didn't matter that they were up against a much-weakened Saigon Heat side.
Uppermost on Singapore Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang's mind was a strong performance that would nicely set the tone for the first game of their play-off semi-final against the Alab Pilipinas this Sunday.
And he got exactly what he wanted in the last game of the regular Asean Basketball League season as the Slingers made light work of the Vietnamese side in a 86-71 victory at the Ho Xuan Huong Stadium in Ho Chih Minh on Saturday.
With an eye on the first game of the play-offs against league leaders Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions on April 5, the Heat rested their star centre Lenny Daniel.
His replacement Jordan Henriquez-Roberts tried in vain to contain the Slingers' big man Justin Howard, who led the team with a game-high 39 points and 19 rebounds.
"In our team talk before the game, I told them that whether or not Saigon decide to rest their key players, it's all about how we play our defence and set the tone against the Alab Pilipinas in our next game," Neo told The New Paper in a phone interview.
Swingman Xavier Alexander, who missed the last game against the same opponents with a shoulder injury, was equally impressive with 13 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists - one rebound away from his third triple-double of the season.
Point guard Wong Wei Long missed the game with a mild concussion, while shooting guard Ng Han Bin gave the team a scare in the first quarter, when he received a hard knock to the chest from a collision with a Heat player which sent him sprawling.
Neo is hoping for a full-strength team when they take on the Alab Pilipinas at the OCBC Arena this Sunday.
"I think Han Bin's injury is nothing major because he had no complaints after I put him back in in the second half," said Neo.
"He's mentally strong enough to get through this.
"I'm not too sure about Wei Long though. Hopefully, he's good to go but, if he's not ready, the rest will have to step up."
Neo is bracing his players for a tough game against the third-ranked Alab.
"It was really good momentum for us today especially for Justin, Xavier and Leon (Kwek, tied with Alexander as second-highest scorer with 13 points)," said the coach.
"But we still need to prepare for the play-offs.
"We will watch some videos to look at how Alab have been playing recently.
"In the end, my players must be able to transfer the energy and effort (from this game) to the next game."