The Philippines' surprising loss to Kazakhstan in their last game put a lot of pressure on the home squad to avenge their earlier defeat to Iran. With Japan pulling even with Gilas Pilipinas at five wins against four defeats, it is of utmost importance to grab a bounce-back win before heading into the final window of the FIBA Asian Qualifiers with road games against Kazakhstan and Qatar.
In the first meeting, Christian Standhardinger burst for 30 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field but he was the lone double-digit scorer for the Philippines. Now he was put back into the lineup in lieu of Stanley Pringle. Joining them are the returning Jayson Castro and Troy Rosario, and a player making his Gilas debut in Arwind Santos.
Iran will look very different from the first meeting against the Philippines, which the Iranians won 81-73, as they won't be having key members in their lineup. Hamed Haddadi will be absent but he was also a non-factor in the first game as he only played spot minutes near the tail end of the contest. Sammad Nikkah Bahrami, Sajjad Mashayekhi and Arsalan Kazemi won't be suiting up for Iran at the Mall of Asia Arena. In the game in Tehran, the three combined for 51 points.
The responsibility to fill in for the absentees will fall largely on the shoulders of Benham Yakchali, Mohammad Jamshidi and Mohammad Hassanzadeh. However, the Philippines cannot forget about Rouzbeh Arghavan, who torched the Philippine side with key outside shots in their first meeting, and their other big man Meisam Mirzaei, who has the height and heft to be a factor in the shaded area.
What makes Iran still a dangerous team even with all the missing pieces is that they have a team with a core still intact. The guys who will be tasked to step up have long been understudies of the veterans. The only real hole for this squad right now is in the point guard position. After Mehdi Kamrani retired, it took Mashayekhi some time to develop into the leader he needed to be for Iran but he eventually got there as evident in the two team's first meeting. Now veteran Aren Davoudi will be tasked as Iran's starting point guard, and this might be a matchup that the Philippines could exploit.
Iran is coming off a 76-47 loss to Australia for their first game in this window, but it looked like they let that one slip without putting too much effort as they knew the game against the Philippines would be the more important one. As they are only one win above the Philippines and Japan in the standings with six wins against three losses, dropping a match against Gilas could be disastrous for their hopes to making it into the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
For Gilas, the return of Castro and Rosario will be huge because their chemistry is automatic. Castro can slice into the defense while Rosario can just fill the gaps and wait for drop passes or pop out for jump shots off ball screens.
Having a veteran leader in Castro also adds a key piece for the Philippines as he knows what it takes to beat Iran as he led Gilas in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship group stages. He will take over Pringle's spot as the main guard for Gilas after serving out his three-game suspension.
He is at his deadliest in high ball screen situations, especially involving the center of the opposing squad.
The key battle in this matchup will be on the boards. With less talent available, Iran will be banking on their effort to try and pick up a road win but the Philippines learned a painful lesson when they lost to Kazakhstan so coach Yeng Guiao's players must be primed to bounce back and make sure this two-game homestand will not completely go to waste.