PHOENIX Pulse has always found NLEX a tough nut to crack, notwithstanding the latter's manpower problem.
Now come the Road Warriors at full strength and equally determined to set off their PBA Governors' Cup campaign on a high note Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Phoenix actually holds a 3-2 edge over coach Yeng Guiao's charges over the last five conferences but lost an 85-87 decision last July 12 despite NLEX playing minus Kiefer Ravena.
Now Ravena has served out his FIBA-imposed suspension and brings with him a stint in the last World Cup, factors that are not lost on Fuel Masters coach Louie Alas.
"It will be a tough one. Last conference natalo kami kahit wala si Ravena. It'll be tougher now," said Alas on the eve of the match.
"But we had a good game preparation," added Alas.
"Kailangan lang ma-contain namin fastbreak at transition offense nila, tapos ma-contain import, Ravena, (Jericho) Cruz, (JR) Quinahan and (Poy) Erram."
That should be easier said than done.
Olu Ashaolu has been playing superb since NLEX's last three games in the Commissioner's Cup and in recent tune-up games, while Quinahan and Erram are also both injury-free, the last from an ankle sprain that kept him out of Guiao's World Cup lineup.
There is also the comebacking Mike Miranda, acquired from NorthPort, and a welcome addition to the Road Warriors' frontline.
In contrast, Phoenix will be playing without LA Revilla and Jaypee Mendoza. While the playmaker is expected to be back by next month, the hard-nosed forward is out for the season.
Considering NLEX's frontcourt depth, most of the burden would fall on Doug Kramer, Jason Perkins, Dave Marcelo, Willie Wilson and Justin Chua trying to help out Eugene Phelps.
Phoenix's advantage should lie on the backcourt despite Cruz also being there for NLEX along with Philip Paniamogan, Kenneth Ighalo, Paul Varilla and Kyles Lao.
Matthew Wright, who would also have been a shoo-in for the last Gilas Pilipinas squad if not for a foot injury, is also fully recovered and should form a lethal combination with RJ Jazul, Alex Mallari and either of new acquisitions RR Garcia or Davon Potts. (NC)