Injury-hit Fuel Masters left scrambling to adjust frontline rotation

Injuries to its frontline have forced Phoenix to scramble for on-the-fly adjustments with only a little over two weeks left before the start of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup.

With newly-acquired Jake Pascual possibly out for the year due to an ACL injury and Dave Marcelo sidelined until the middle of the season while recovering from bone spurs, coach Louie Alas admitted that firm answers in terms of replacing their combined production have been pretty elusive so far.

"There hasn't been any change in philosophy, but the big change has been in figuring out how to finish the game. My bigs get in foul trouble easily," he told ESPN5.com in a mix of English and Filipino. "But we can't do anything about it. It's out of our control. We just have to be consistent and understand that this is it, it is what it is."

The Fuel Masters were only able to snag one win in three games it played in hosting the Phoenix Super Basketball Tournament this past week, having beaten San Miguel 108-90 last Wednesday to avoid going winless. Phoenix lost the rebounding battle in both its losses -- first by a slim margin (49-47) against Alaska, then by a sizeable number (52-43) in its final contest versus NLEX.

"Their losses have been a huge problem because even when they were there, big men have already been our problem. It really became more of a problem now. But I told them that's the reason we're playing tune-up games, to see what else we can learn," he explained.

Phoenix was able to find some silver linings during the tournament, though -- even before snatching the win over the Beermen, where Justin Chua (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Jorey Napoles (11 and 12 boards) imposed themselves on their counterparts' undersized frontline to help the team win the glass (55-47). By moving certain players to the four and five positions, Alas said the team is able to play small ball for short stretches.

The coach, however, said that strategy -- the same approach San Miguel looks to deploy this conference in June Mar Fajardo's absence -- isn't something that's going to be effective for the Fuel Masters for a sustained amount of time.

"I tried moving JC (Intal) to the four, used him sparingly there. I went with Jason (Perkins) at the five, too. But I can't do that all game long because that's not natural for us," Alas noted. "That's why when we do play like that, we have to make the most out of it. Plus when we return to our old rotation, we have to sustain it."

Alas admitted that having the suspended Calvin Abueva back would alleviate some of their size woes in the coming conference.

"Calvin being Calvin, you know him. He's everywhere on the court. His effort is really a huge help, and his intangibles too," he described.

But with no reprieve in sight in terms of the beleaguered forward's suspension, Alas said they'll look elsewhere for some help up front.

"We're looking at free agency and MPBL for an extra body, and hopefully before opening night we're able to get one," shared Alas. "But now in the MPBL, we can't get anyone because the playoffs are just starting. Hopefully we can get someone from the eliminated teams."