Slingers go down, but Neo's unfazed
Coach focused on play-off preparations as second-stringers are burnt by the Heat
|SINGAPORE SLINGERS||SAIGON HEAT|
They are second in the regular season standings and have already qualified for the Asean Basketball League (ABL) play-offs, which starts next month.
But, after fielding a team of mostly second-stringers in an 88-71 home loss to fourth-ranked Saigon Heat at the OCBC Arena yesterday, the Singapore Slingers could enter the play-offs with little momentum, and perhaps even confidence.
The Slingers end their regular season campaign next Sunday away to the Heat and coach Neo Beng Siang has already indicated the reserves will again get most of the playing time.
Neo simply wants to get his bench prepared to contribute during the play-offs, while also keeping his starters fresh.
Speaking after the loss yesterday, he told The New Paper: "Winning is not important.
"It's all about going back to the basics, defence, getting those things right to get our rhythm for the play-offs."
Noticeably missing from the Slingers' starting five yesterday were American swingman Xavier Alexander, who sat out with an injury, and point guard Wong Wei Long, replaced by Leon Kwek, and the team's newest foreign signing, Josh Urbiztondo from the Philippines.
Kwek, who is into his second year in the ABL, was the joint second-highest scorer for the Slingers with 12 points (tied with Wong), while American Justin Howard, the starting centre, led the team with 22 points.
"It doesn't matter how many points we scored, we still had a 17-point loss," said Kwek, 20.
"Without Xavier, I knew I had to step up my game but still, we fell short and got killed in the fourth quarter."
Sparked by Mitchell Folkoff, Delvin Goh and Howard, the home team got off to a bright start with a 14-8 lead after just five minutes.
Despite some mistakes, the Slingers led 38-34 at half-time, but it was all downhill from there.
To the dismay of the home fans, the Singapore outfit faltered while the Heat sparkled, and the visitors took firm control by the middle of the fourth quarter, leading 73-61, and easily wrapped up the win.
Said the 1.88m-tall Kwek: "Overall I think we did well today. The positive takeaway today was that I just kept on playing.
"There were spurts during the season, you could see whenever I made a mistake, I dropped my head and I let it affect me.
"But today, I just kept playing all 40 minutes.
"That's what the play-offs are all about, forgetting about the play that happened and focusing on the next one.
"That will be the key for us."