The end of the 19-week round-robin phase is the beginning of the final chapter of the inaugural Cambodian Basketball League, as eight teams head into the play-offs at the Beeline Arena on Saturday to determine four semi-finalists aiming for the title round on November 30.
The all-conquering Alaxan FR Patriots go out as red-hot favourites on the strength of their impeccable season record, which clearly demonstrated how none of the other teams could stand up to them.
The Patriots open the quarter-final show with a match-up against Cellcard Eagles, who surprisingly had to claw for every yard in the path to the play-offs.
What makes this encounter testy for both sides is the fact that the threat of a knockout brings out the best and worst in teams, unlike the more leisurely league games. This is where the Patriots will have to be on their guard.
As a central figure in the Patriots’ action plans, Aimar Sabayo has excelled himself while drawing admirable support from Dexter Arcenas, Colin Meyn and John Cornito. It is this quartet which has virtually put down one team after another during the league season.
After a somewhat rough and tumble season, the Eagles were relieved to grab the last chance to make this grade and are bound to use some of their known strengths to make a match of it.
Eagles are by far the tallest side in the competition which gives them a clear edge when it comes to rebounds. This is where the Eagles could trouble the Patriots the most, with Geoff Harry and Sean Looney presenting a formidable challenge.
The second-ranked IRB the Lord were talked about in the same breath as the Patriots at the start of the season though they had some of their chinks exposed in the last few games.
The Lord take on Extra Joss Warriors, whose form tapered off after a sound beginning.
Most of The Lord’s success has come from good perimeter shooting where Monh Ratana has been as reliable as he was during his days with the Cambodian national team. But Ouch Phanat has been one of the stars of the league season and the team’s fortunes could well revolve round this pair.
One area where the Warriors can assert themselves is in securing the paint, employing tall players like Josh Schmitz and Chris Bolado while pinning their hopes on Ley Denetrosa and Fred Babida to sort out offence in transitions.
Two all-Cambodian teams of near equal strength may produce the most intense contest of the day.
Amid high drama, Sela Meas defeated Pate 310 by the barest of margins in their league clash with a last second three-pointer in a nip and tip finish.
Pate, who had every reason to believe then that the victory was stolen from them, now have a chance to avenge that harrowing defeat. It would be a big surprise if this match-up doesnt get any more tough and thrilling than their previous encounter.
The consistent Sok Tour and his admirable ally Taing Peng Kuy are the ones to watch for Pate, while Sela Meas will be banking on Sok Samnang and Chea Prohors.
In the last of the day’s pair-ups, a resurgent Phnom Penh Dragons will be up against CCPL Heat.
The last time the two teams met, the Dragons could not withstand the Heat and went down 54-40. But since that meeting very early in the league season, both line-ups have significantly changed.
The Heat have lost the services of their centre Salva Butsaman and will take the floor on Saturday without their trusted shooting guard Angel. The redeeming feature for the Heat is that Panha Sovann has filled in well.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Dragons have lost two of their centres Eric Laughlin and Butch Missouri but have seen Ben Laird grow in confidence and stature.
The organisers have made a slight modification to the semi-finals schedule. The first will now be held next Tuesday and the second the following day, with the final slated for November 30.
Alaxan Patriots v Cellcard Eagles 10am
IRB the Lord v Extra Joss Warriors 2pm
Sela Meas v Pate 310 – 4pm
Phnom Penh Dragons v CCPL Heat 6pm