Action resumes in the 2016-17 ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) season and no less than a fierce rivalry greets the new calendar year as defending champions Westports Malaysia Dragons make their home debut against rival Singapore Slingers on Friday, January 6 for the first game of the Straits Cup, the two team’s home-and-away series. Game time is set of 8:00PM at the House of Champions in Cyberjaya.
It will be the second meeting between last year’s two finalists, which initially faced off in the season’s opener last November 25.
The Slingers dominated that battle, 80-62, sending a strong message to the rest of the league as well. They went on to top the team standings one-fourth into their elimination round campaign, thanks mainly to their two World imports Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander who have both been named Players of the Week.
In their latest win, Howard (24 points, 22 rebounds) and Alexander (17 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 1 block) led the Slingers to a conquest of the previously unbeaten Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions, 77-71. Alexander himself scored 9 points in the fourth quarter of that game, taking charge for the Slingers.
But the revitalized Dragons are coming off an 72-65 win over the Saigon Heat last December 17. That victory saw increased production from the Dragons’ World imports, Skylar Spencer and Marcus Melvin.
Spencer tallied 18 points on an efficient 9-of-15 shooting and 20 rebounds. Melvin scored 22 points. The two had only combined for 22 points on 8-of-21 shooting in their initial game against the Slingers. Such contributions should be on display if they are to match the Slingers’ reinforcements in their upcoming face-off.
Heritage import Freddie Goldstein also paced the squad with his steady playmaking and leadership. Goldstein finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 steals against the Heat. If he continues to play the same way, it might be an additional problem for Singapore’s backcourt.
More importantly, the Dragons drew support from their locals, which had 19 bench points against the Heat. Teo Kuk Hou (8 points, 3-of-4 FG) and Loh Shee Fai (7 points, 3-of-5 FG) led the effort from the reserves.
Although Singapore is on top of the league standings right now with a 5-1 record, the Dragons hold a slight edge in their all-time head to head battle, 14-13. With how both teams performed in their last games, the upcoming battle promises to be an equally exciting duel.