Having always been the thorn in Hitech’s rose bushes, can Singapore Slingers hand Hitech Bangkok City’s first lost for a second consecutive year?
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There was a bit of worry about this Hitech Bangkok City team when they struggled to convincingly put away the Singapore Slingers in the first game. The Thai side were down by 8 points early on and even if they broke away to an 18 point lead in the third quarter, the Slingers full court defense closed it into within 4 points.
At that time, I had it pegged in my head that this wasn’t a pretty good Slingers team. Not having Russel Low and Larry Liew in their season roster, along with missing out on Ng Han Bin and Wu Qing De from injuries should have made them struggle.
Yet here were are, 6 games into the season and the Slingers have 4 wins including an impressive win only the KL Dragons being the only team to beat the Dragons at this point. Xavier Alexander has been a big part of the Slingers’ success and transformation from last year.
Because of Alexander’s frantic style of play and being able to rebound the ball and push it up on his own, he has changed the Slingers from the slowest team in the league ( 77.0 Pace, last in ABL) to at least one that doesn’t play absurdly slow (84.2 Pace, 4th in ABL). His league-best 10.3 free-throw attempts per gamr have also made them the most frequent free throw shooting team.
Their rate of free throw shooting is crucial, when you consider that they are only shooting 14.7 three-point shots per game (no team is shooting less than 22!!!) which is a good thing because they are shooting a miserable 18.2% from there anyways.
Despite their shooting woes (and because they have Justin Howard), the Slingers are the very good at scoring close to the basket, as indicated by the 42.0% field goal percentage which is the best in the ABL. If you want to beat the Slingers, you better stop them from scoring near the hoop and make them shoot threes.
It’s a good thing that is exactly what Hitech Bangkok City does. With Chris Charles and Steve Thomas inside (along with their plethora of long and lengthy wings), the Bangkokians have allowed the league’s lowest field goal percentage at 36.9%. Justin Howard might have gotten his way around Reggie Johnson or Calvin Godfrey in his 45 point outburst, but with more defensive minded players like Charles and Thomas, that will be a lot harder to do.
Other than still being a defensive force, Hitech has done their part on the offensive side as well. They are only 0.1 away from the Dragon’s league leading 44.9 eFG%. With the Twin Towers scoring from outside and the Thai-Ams and locals firing from outside, Hitech is suddenly looking themselves at the best three-point shooting team (31.1%) and second best overall shooting team (40.4%). There’s a lot to like about this Hitech team and it’s going to take a lot of effort for the Slingers to find a chink in Hitech’s armor.
But if one thing that the Slingers might look at, it’s the cumulative fatigue that Hitech has been building up. Their last ABL game may have been 8 days ago, but during that span, the locals have been playing in the domestic Division 1 tournament. As of the moment I am writing this, Hitech will be playing their last game on the 29th (one day before gameday) in either the Championship game or the 3rd place game. Knowing team owner, Nipondh Chavalitmontein as a fierce competitor, he will stress to get that championship.
If the Slingers can force Jing Ruiz to dig deep down his bench, they could have an unlikely advantage.
X-Factor: Wuttipong Dasom/Leon Kwek
I had to pick two guys for this, because either one could probably swing the game to their team. Both had very unimpressive games the first time around with Reuben losing a bit of his cred as a defender and Kwek going for a game full of missed shots. Since then, Reuben has turned it around and solidified a spot among the top locals again while Kwek’s scoring spree (18 points against the Dragons in MABA) has placed him on the radar.
It’s hard to bet against the undefeated defending champions. They have shown that they aren’t prefect, but they have also shown that they know how to overcome those flaws. The fatigue from the domestic tournament might come in play, but only if the Hitech imports struggle.
It’s not going to be an easy game because no game against the Slingers are easy, but I think Hitech should take this game by 7 points.
Feature Picture Credit: Kuk Onvisa Thewphaingarm