Barangay Ginebra and NLEX are each riding four-game winning streaks as the PBA Governors' Cup heads into the crucial stages of the elimination round.
The Road Warriors (7-1) barely missed a beat after absorbing a close loss to the San Miguel Beermen last Oct. 5 and continued their march by piecing together four straight wins -- a furious comeback against Barangay Ginebra, a beatdown on Columbian and Rain or Shine, and an encouraging effort against co-league leaders TNT.
Meanwhile, the Kings (5-2) managed to regain their bearings after suffering consecutive losses at the hands of Phoenix and NLEX by stifling SMB and Magnolia in back-to-back games and by putting up strong fourth quarter offenses against Rain or Shine and Blackwater.
Here are some numbers from the ongoing runs of the Kings and Road Warriors.
Justin Brownlee assembled two of his four triple-doubles this conference during this winning streak by the Kings. He put up his best Russell Westbrook impersonation by averaging 27.7 points, 13.5 rebounds, 10.7 assists, 2.5 steals and 0.7 blocks in the last four games. Although there hasn't been any drop-off offensively as he's shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 52.3 percent on 3s (5.2 attempts).
"That's becoming a norm for him, right? It's surprising when he doesn't get a triple-double," coach Tim Cone said at the heels of Ginebra's 129-124 win over San Miguel last Oct. 13 for their first of four straight. "He's not one of those guys who coasts for a little bit and then plays hard. He just goes at it. That's why a lot of times, he's battling cramps. He's in tremendous shape and he just gives his all, all the time. So I'm the one who has to really hold him back and make sure he gets that rest because he can't do it himself."
The Road Warriors have not shied away from firing from long distance this conference and have normed 36.5 attempts from the 3-point line in this run, a tad higher than the 36.2 mark they're launching in eight games. NLEX's hitting at a prolific rate by making 37.5 percent of their shots there, which is actually even lower than the 41 percent (second-best) they have posted in the season-ending conference. These are all just indications that the team's shooters have been given the ultimate green light by coach Yeng Guiao himself.
"Even before I went to FIBA, we already emphasized 3-point shooting for all my teams. Even our bigs are supposed to hit the 3-point shot," Guiao said moments after a record-breaking shootout with Blackwater last Sep. 29. "I realized how important 3-point shooting is after one year from the Asian Games to the World Cup. It's an acquired skill and the harder you work, the better you get."
Ginebra is shooting a blistering 48 percent from downtown during this streak, which would have ranked first this conference if this was a number it could sustain for all 11 elimination games. But the Kings still aren't doing so bad from long range so far as they're making 39 percent of their shots, good for third behind TNT (43 percent) and NLEX (41). They're still not throwing up a lot of 3s - Ginebra's 27.4 attempts per game are only ninth - but does that really matter if they're finding the bottom of the net on most of those?
Kiefer Ravena handed out an impressive 11.0 assists during this four-game stretch, but he turned the ball over only 1.5 times per contest, an astoundingly low mark considering how much he handles the ball for NLEX. In two of his double-digit assist games (17 against Ginebra, 13 against TNT), Ravena only had a turnover each.
Ravena's also averaging 9.2 assists on just 1.6 turnovers for the entire conference, second behind Brownlee's 9.8 and first among all locals.
Ginebra's opponents averaged 17.0 turnovers in all their four wins, which would put the Kings' foes alongside TNT (17.3) and NorthPort (17) for the highest miscues per game.
"We picked up our defense after our loss against Phoenix and NLEX. We went to basics. Coach Tim really taught us to go back to basics," LA Tenorio said Wednesday. "That's our team's [modus operandi]. That's why we won championships."
That approach has reflected themselves in the numbers, where Ginebra's recording 8.5 steals and holding opponents to just 26.7 percent from beyond the arc -- a stark contrast to what they tallied in their two losses this conference, where the Fuel Masters and the Road Warriors shot 37.8 percent on threes and only had 10.0 turnovers.
After attempting a total of 56 shots in his first two games (28 per contest), Manny Harris dialed back his shot-hunting by going for "only" 17 tries in his third game with the Road Warriors. That didn't limit his effectiveness, though, as he notched a triple-double (29 points, 12 boards, 11 dimes) on 58 percent shooting in the Road Warriors' 111-91 blowout win over Rain or Shine Wednesday.
"It was a big gamble when we replaced Olu (Ashaolu) because we were very successful with him. Our risk is we would look stupid, or we would look like a genius. So far, it's genius," Guiao grinned. "But teams are gonna scout him, teams are gonna defend him. But the good thing about Manny when we talked ... I told him he doesn't need to score that many points for us to win. If you facilitate, involve others, we can still win and we can still spread out the offense."
Harris was also a game-high plus-29, further underscoring how NLEX wants to keep the rock moving across the court on offense. So far, he's averaging 38.0 points, 8.0 assists, 7.6 rebounds, 3.6 steals and 1.0 blocks on 49-40-86 shooting splits.
"Forty-plus points every game is not sustainable. You cannot do that every game," Guiao said, alluding to Harris' 45 and 40-point outings versus Columbian and TNT, respectively. "We know we have to rely still on the team and move the ball around and find open people in terms of offense."
Ball movement has been key so far for Ginebra, which handed out 28.5 dimes during their winning stretch, consistently in line with what they're averaging in the Governors' Cup (28.4, second). Browlee's leading the team in that department, of course, but the three-guard lineup of Tenorio, Stanley Pringle and Scottie Thompson have all helped maintain that crisp number by combining for 12.0 assists per game.
"I think we're moving the ball well. We pride ourselves for getting a number of assists," Brownlee said.
Only NLEX was able to top those assist numbers by Ginebra by dishing 31 as a team during this streak. The Road Warriors are averaging 28.5 dimes this conference and have only dipped below 25 twice -- 24 in a 105-99 win over Meralco, and 21 in their lone loss of the conference against San Miguel.