Gilas Pilipinas coach Yeng Guiao believes his players are ready for the crucial sixth window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
"We feel very confident that we can get to the World Cup," Guiao said after Monday night's practice. "The objective from the beginning is to try to get to the World Cup. If we win these two games, I think that's going to do it. But if we lose one, that'll be tough on us so it's important to win both."
Gilas resumed its training sessions without naturalized big man Andray Blatche, who returned to China Monday morning to play for his team in the Chinese Basketball Association. Blatche will reunite with the Philippine team in Doha on February 16. Guiao is pleased by Blatch's progress despite the limited stay in Manila.
"He has a very good understanding of the system already," said Guiao. "He said it himself that he likes the system. He can get used to it very easily. It's also important that he likes it. It's harder to teach someone something that they don't like. At least in his case, he does like it."
The team will send videos of this week's training sessions to Blatche to keep him updated while he's in China. Gilas will also hold twice-a-day practices in Doha before they face Qatar on February 21 and Kazakhstan on February 24.
Guiao's other concern is the temperature in Kazakhstan, which can drop to negative 20 degrees Celsius.
"We're trying to condition their minds and their bodies that it's really cold, something which we do not experience here," said Guiao. "It's difficult to say how big a factor it is since this is the first time that we'll be in such situation as a team."
Gilas will also face a tough travel schedule. There is not a direct flight from Qatar to Kazakhstan. The team will take a five-hour flight to Turkey where they will have an eight-hour layover before boarding another five-hour flight to Almaty.
"We'll arrive early morning and then we'll practice at night. Then in the next morning, it's game time already. That's how tough it is," Guiao said.
This tough travel schedule means that the team will only have a couple of days to adjust to Kazakhstan's weather.
"We might stay there for only two days and that's the hard part," said Guiao. "It's difficult to have acclimatization in those two days so we'll see what happens. But physically, mentally, I think they're ready. They have to toughen up and learn to play in those extreme conditions."
Guiao and the team are dealing with the mounting pressure heading into the must-win games.
"It doesn't help anyone if you overthink," Guiao said. "We're just trying to keep ourselves relaxed. We're just trying to focus on the game plan, the systems, offense and defense, and the matchups."