CCPL Heat’s Sring Virakpheap (L) goes up for a shot against Mobitel XG Warriors during their game at Beeline Arena Aug. 18, 2012. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
It's shape up or pack up for the four teams in tomorrow’s playoff games at the Beeline Arena to determine the two remaining semifinal slots in the inaugural Cambodia Basketball Challenge.
By virtue of finishing top two in the preliminary league standings, Sabay Salty Crabs and Raid-Alaxan FR have picked up a free pass to the semifinals.
They now wait in the wings to find out who among Mobitel XG Warriors, Sela Meas, CCPL Heat and Phnom Penh Dragons will make the last four in what could be two of the toughest encounters seen in seven weeks of competition.
Third-ranked Warriors are on a three-game roll inspired by the return to the side of Fred Babida, who is expected to lead the charge against sixth-ranked CCPL Heat in tomorrow’s opening game at 3pm.
Baskets may come from Babida and his able ally Ley Denestrosa, but the Warriors will no doubt exploit the height advantage of Joshua Peter Schmitz, Rafael Dionco and Jerry Manus when it comes to under-the-rim operations.
More significantly, the Warriors carry a distinct psychological advantage to the court, having beaten CCPL Heat earlier in the league. But knockouts have a way of playing on the psyche of teams, and the Warriors will have to be on their guard to avoid a meltdown of sorts.
For the Heat, transition offence has been working smoothly with national team star Kim Ran playing a pivotal role. He has been the side’s main scorer and the team fortunes will swing with his shooting form on the day.
Sok Tour has proved his worth as a sound back-up man, but these two shooters will have to rely a lot on the play making abilities of Sovan Panha in order to offset the Warriors’ height superiority.
If Heat’s last game against Raid-Alaxan is any indication, the stand-out factor was the way the side defensively handled big man Aimar Sabayo. The Heat may be required to use the same sturdy tactics to clamp down on Schmitz, who has been commanding the rebounds for the Warriors.
As one game analyst succinctly put it, “Heat have an advantage on the guard position, so they must run in order to win against the Warriors.”
The first playoff could well boil down to a classic height- versus-speed confrontation.
Meanwhile the all-Cambodian Sela Meas, ranked fourth, will take on a side that finished a notch below them in the league standings, Phnom Penh Dragons, in the second playoff at 4pm.
The game has all the trappings of an age-old conventional battle between Sela Meas’s stout defence and the Dragons’ well-known preference for offence.
Sela Meas have shown remarkable tenacity in dealing with two tough rivals in the Crabs and the Warriors. While the odds may be in favour of Sela Meas, the Dragons are by no means easy meat.
The inside game of Sok Samnang and Touch Sothearith may hold the key to Sela Meas success, for which shooter Phen Darath’s contribution is also crucial.
The comeback of centre Kelvin Chan, who missed a few games because of business commitments, is a good omen for the Dragons, whose attacking options are created by Chan and Mark Nabong.
The Dragons also need point guard Emman Quiruz to step up their creative play.
One notable advantage that sets the two sides apart is the bench strength. Good players come out of the Sela Meas bench, which is a lot deeper and stronger than that of the Dragons, who have often been caught short on quality replacements after the starting five.
The Crabs players and fans will be up in the stands curiously awaiting the winners of the Warriors v Heat, with their ensuing semifinal slated for next week. The winner of the clash between Sela Meas and the Dragons will meet Raid-Alaxan in the second semifinal.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]