2016-17 ABL semifinals preview: Alab Pilipinas vs Singapore Slingers

ABL 2016-17 Alab Pilipinas-Saigon Heat pic 12 by Roy Afable

The ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) playoffs begin today, April 2, as Alab Pilipinas takes on the Singapore Slingers at the OCBC Arena in Singapore.

The Slingers have been with the league for seven years and even made it into the Finals the previous season before losing to Malaysia. With a ton of experience under their belt, they are hungry for another chance to compete for an ABL title.

Alab Pilipinas is on a quest of its own as they try to bring glory back to the Philippines. A Filipino ABL team hasn’t won the championship since the San Miguel Beermen were crowned champs back in 2013.

Here are a few questions to help you get a better feel of the impending matchup between Singapore and Philippines.

1. How will Kiefer Ravena fit into Alab Pilipinas?

The biggest news entering the ABL Playoffs is the arrival of the Phenom, Kiefer Ravena. The former two-time UAAP MVP is coming off his stints with Mighty Sports and the Texas Legends, the latter as a developmental player.

We all know how talented Ravena is, but how will he integrate his game into the Philippine team? Familiarity and team chemistry will come into question as it will be the first time that Ravena will compete with his Alab teammates. Still, this isn’t a huge concern if you’re rooting for the Philippines. Ravena is as versatile as they come, and if his post-UAAP days are any indication of how his game has continued to evolve, we can expect him to quickly set up teammates, including Ray Parks.

Ravena is a rabid scorer who can quickly torch the Slingers all by his lonesome. But at the same time, one of the most underrated facets of his game is his passing. Because he attracts so much attention from defenses, he can easily pick up a ton of assists.

Ravena is on a new team, and not to mention in a new league, but I’m betting the Phenom will still be the Phenom.

2. What’s Singapore’s biggest strength?

The Slingers’ biggest advantage is their big men, Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander.

Howard is a mammoth of a man, a walking double-double machine with averages of 24.4 PPG and 18.1 RPG. Whenever the Slingers need a bucket, they go to the biggest dude on the floor.

Alexander, the X-Man as he’s playfully called in Singapore, is a versatile forward who does everything for the Slingers. This season, he recorded two triple-doubles, a rare feat in the ABL.

The combo of Howard and Alexander are Singapore’s one-two punch.

3. Do the Slingers just rely on their imports?

Absolutely not. Even though Alexander and Howard get all the headlines, the Slingers boasts of underrated support crew in their locals.

The Slingers have actually been developing local talent for years. Unlike most teams, they don’t field in the maximum number of imports. For example, instead of signing four reinforcements, they stuck with Howard and Alexander as their World Imports, and just one Heritage Import in Josh Urbiztondo. This means that at least two Singaporeans are always on the floor. Slowly but surely, Singapore has reaped the rewards of this philosophy.

They have a fearless point guard in Wong Wei Long, who has won the Local MVP of the league for two years in a row. He’s a clutch performer who isn’t afraid to fire away in the closing minutes of a game. Leon Kwek is another guy you can watch out for. He’s a deadeye shooter from the perimeter who can easily explode for 20 points if left unguarded.

As much as the imports have played a huge role in Singapore’s success this season, their locals have been right up there with them every step of the way.

4. Who’s the X-factor for Alab?

Let’s say that Alab gets in a rut. It’s midway through the period and they haven’t scored in over four minutes. Kiefer isn’t scoring. Ray is getting double-teamed. Even Alab’s imports James Hughes and Sampson Carter are having a ton of trouble against Singapore’s twin towers. Who do they go to? Lawrence Domingo.

Think of Domingo as a long lost cousin of Calvin Abueva or Scottie Thompson in the sense that he’ll dive, claw, jump, push, or shove to get the rebound. He lives on put-backs and extra possessions. If Alab can’t find a bucket because of the tight Singapore defense, Domingo is your guy.

5. What key stat should you look into?

One interesting stat you should keep an eye on is the rebounding of these teams. Singapore and Philippines finished neck-and-neck as the two best rebounding squads in the league.

Alab finished number one in rebounding with 48.0 a night while the Slingers are right behind them with 46.0.

These two teams dictate pace and tempo with their rebounding. The Slingers like to play fast and get the ball down to Howard quickly. Alab meanwhile uses their extra possessions to execute in their halfcourt sets.

Rebounding will be a significant factor in this series.

Tipoff between the Singapore Slingers and Alab Pilipinas is at 4:00PM at the OCBC Arena in Singapore.