Gilas Pilipinas lost their second game in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, this time a lopsided defeat to basketball powerhouse Serbia.
How will the Philippines respond after yet another lopsided loss? With three games remaining in the tournament -- Wednesday against Angola, and two more in Beijing during the classification round -- what can Gilas do to salvage this trip?
Unleash CJ Perez
CJ Perez continues to be an absolute stud and is one of the few bright spots for Gilas.
His soft-spoken, off-court demeanor belies the player that is on the floor. Confidence replaces timidity. He creates plays on offense and is relentless on defense in his pursuit to make a stop or get a steal.
Through two games, Perez is the team's leading scorer with 15.5 points per contest, while averaging three assists and 1.5 steals in 19.5 minutes of play per match.
His teammates have been looking for opportunities to penetrate the defense, knocking on the door and waiting for someone to let them in. Perez is kicking down the door. He has helped ease the two blowout losses while standing out to those unfamiliar with this Gilas squad.
"I'm so proud of him because they're the ones who are going to be playing in the next generation," Gilas guard Paul Lee said. "When he plays like that, it brings me joy. I hope he continues to improve."
Perez said that he was overwhelmed when the team handed him his jersey in the dugout. While he was a last-minute call-up as Gilas tried to fill a spot at guard, Perez now deserves to the full spotlight.
By the end of this tournament, we might be saying that he's the future of the program.
Can Andray Blatche turn it around in time?
Through two games in the FIBA World Cup, Gilas' best performer has been Perez. Their best shooter? Probably a tie between Robert Bolick and Paul Lee. Their best inside option is June Mar Fajardo.
Where is Andray Blatche?
Blatche's averages of 10 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists indicate the impact of a solid player who's doing a little bit of everything. However those numbers are sent crashing when coupled with his averages of 5.5 turnovers, 4.5 fouls, and a staggering minus-42 in two games played.
Gilas can't survive on the floor with Blatche being merely average. They're at their best when Blatche is leading the way, setting the tone on both ends of the floor. That has not been the case for Gilas against Italy and Serbia.
Both teams targeted and effectively neutralized Blatche. Italy flew up and down the floor. They used their athletic big men to keep Blatche moving side to side and forced him to have to run out to shooters. Serbia used bruisers like Nikola Jokic to lock up Blatche and put him in foul trouble early.
After posting on Twitter and promising to be better, Blatche started off the match looking much more engaged and ready to battle. But two fouls in the first period forced him to the bench and he was never able to find his game again after that.
Blatche's diminished play is difficult to watch after the large role he has played for Gilas over the past five years. But remaining games offer him a chance to make up for the struggles in the last two losses.
"I'm disappointed, but I don't want this game or even the last game to get in the way of us still trying to play well in the next few games that we have," Gilas coach Yeng Guiao said. "I'm sure Andray's disappointed himself, and I guess the best way for him to make up, and for us to make up as a team, is to be able to play well and try to win the next few games that we play."
What's at stake against Angola?
Gilas' game against Serbia was done. The players and coaches had headed to the hotel. Inside Foshan International Sports and Cultural Center the media and many members of the tournament's volunteers and staff were still glued to in-house television as they watched host country China lose to Poland, 79-76, in overtime.
The loss put China at one win, the only victory by an Asian team in the World Cup heading into Day 4. The highest ranked team in Asia, aside from Japan, in the FIBA World Cup will get an automatic berth to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
A win against Venezuela on Wednesday will have China advancing in this tournament and to next year's Olympics. But a loss coupled with a Gilas win would put the two teams on equal footing for the automatic berth in 2020. Jordan, Iran and South Korea would be in the same position if they win their final assignments in the group stage.
The final results of the classification round for the Asian teams will determine which squad goes to Tokyo.
Gilas will travel to Beijing to play Puerto Rico and either Iran or Tunisia.
"We will push ourselves to move on," said Lee. "This is the most important game for us."