KUALA LUMPUR — Denied last season, Westports Malaysia takes a crack at the ASEAN Basketball League championship once more, holding home court advantage as the Dragons battle the Singapore Slingers in Game 1 of the Finals on Friday here.
In a matchup between 2 of the league’s 3 remaining founding members, the top-seeded hosts are slightly favored against Singapore in their 8:45pm matchup at the MABA Stadium.
Both squads split their regular season games, trading wins and even finishing the elimination round with identical 16-4 cards.
But Westports Malaysia has been the hotter team, riding on an offensive onslaught and stringing together 9 straight victories, including a sweep of 4th-ranked Saigon in the semifinals.
The Dragons boast of the ABL’s version of the Splash Brothers, with Filipinos Jason Brickman and Matthew Wright providing amazing playmaking and outside sniping, respectively.
Brickman, the Long Island University product, posted numbers of 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 10.7 assists in the elimination round to help Wright, who has been explosive with 23.1 points, 4.2 boards and 3.4 dimes per outing.
Malaysia coach Ariel Vanguardia, also a Filipino, vowed to prepare well for the Slingers and hopes to avoid the fate they suffered in 2014, when they swept the Heat in the Final Four before getting blanked by eventual champion HiTech Bangkok in the Last Dance.
“We have to be extra ready,” the mentor told the ABL website. “Preparation will be critical. We must be able to figure out a way to limit their usual scorers without taking for granted those that can contribute for them at any given point.”
For Singapore, this is the closest they’ve been to the league crown, as the Slingers have finished 3rd twice in the past, first in the inaugural tourney in 2009 before taking the bronze last season.
The 2nd seed also has a Filipino in its arsenal in Kris Rosales, a Fil-Am playmaker picked by Barako Bull 19th overall in the 2015 PBA Draft but never got to see action in the pros.
The 6-foot-2 Rosales has been a steady force for Singapore, norming 9.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists in the regular season, but he injured his hand in their semifinals opener and is questionable for Game 1 of the finals.
American imports will also play a huge role and both the Dragons (Reggie Johnson and Calvin Godfrey) and the Slingers (Xavier Alexander and Justin Howard) have the ABL’s most reliable reinforcements in the tournament. — By Josiah Albelda