Team Pilipinas is looking to pull off an upset against the much favored Iranians in tomorrow’s game

By Klyde Manansala | Photo by Tristan Tamayo

Here’s the thing about Iran: They’ve won five of their last six games in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers, they have not yet lost a home game, and they are reinforced by veteran star Hammed Haddadi, the Philippines’ biggest (literally) setback for the past years.

But more than Haddadi’s presence underneath the basket—not to mention his incredible passing skills—the Iranians have been mowing down team after team solely because of one paramount game-changer: Samad Nikkhah Bahrami. The small forward out of Tehran has been calling the shots effectively as he led the team to the Asian qualifiers, almost dropping seven assists per game and serving as one of the biggest factors of Iran’s winning streak. Having said that, if Bahrami continues to set up his teammates well in which baskets can easily be converted, Team Pilipinas will have to double their efforts in waging tough defense throughout the game.

“The best rebounding guard the league has seen in recent memory has barely scratched his potential as he still doesn’t have a reliable jumper in his arsenal, but the kid’s insane nose for the ball and the energy he injects into the game could be one of the greatest factors in their game against Iran

However, Iran will be facing a rejuvenated Philippine roster with new faces and better skills. And with Iran barely having enough knowledge on the Philippines’ new set of players, it could be Team Pilipinas’ biggest edge knowing that there would be an element of surprise.

Bahrami will find an interesting match-up and a familiar foe in Marcio Lassiter, probably Team Pilipinas’ most accurate gunner from the outside. When head coach Yeng Guiao named some PBA players he wanted to play for under his wing, the San Miguel Beermen shooting guard didn’t hesitate as he immediately answered to the call of the newly-appointed coach. Seven years have gone so fast that Bahrami is set to meet a wiser and more improved Super Marcio in their clash tomorrow.

The effort of Team Pilipinas in boosting their firepower from beyond the arc didn’t just stop with Lassiter, Guiao also called on the services of another sharpshooter in Alex Cabagnot—another explosive player who can get things going once he finds his rhythm. Besides, Cabagnot was given the moniker “crunch man” for a reason—he earned that nickname by sinking in the most crucial baskets especially in the dying minutes of the payoff period.

Adding Ginebra’s Scottie Thompson in the final 12-man lineup is perhaps the smartest move Guiao did. The best rebounding guard the league has seen in recent memory has barely scratched his potential as he still doesn’t have a reliable jumper in his arsenal, but the kid’s insane nose for the ball and the energy he injects into the game could be one of the greatest factors in their game against Iran.

The do-it-all guard out of Perpetual Help stands as one of the reasons why Ginebra is a champion while still flourishing under Tim Cone. Thompson is expected to bring in his unselfish mentality and experience in playing alongside respected veterans in the league such as LA Tenorio and Mark Caguioa.

Cabagnot was given the moniker “crunch man” for a reason—he earned that nickname by sinking in the most crucial baskets especially in the dying minutes of the payoff period

As we all know, Andray Blatche and Jun Mar Fajardo will not be suiting up for the Iran game, which means Christian Standhardinger will have to carry the heavy task of trying to contain Haddadi in the paint. Helping him hold off the frontline are Raymond Almazan and Poy Erram, both of whom can score from anywhere in the floor. If the Filipino-German can effectively make use of his ability to score mid-range jumpers and run the floor in transition, Standhardinger will definitely give the experienced Haddadi a tough time.

It might be hard to use a dribble-drive offense due to the tremendous defense of Iran underneath, which is why the perimeter game of the Philippines has to be on point—the most dangerous weapon we can utilize against them.

“Having said that, if Bahrami continues to set up his teammates well in which baskets can easily be converted, Team Pilipinas will have to double their efforts in waging tough defense throughout the game

Prior to their clash, the Philippines is currently converting above 50 percent in the two-point field goal compared to Iran’s 49.6 percent. However, Team Pilipinas is just shooting 31 percent from beyond the arc, but expect that to increase tomorrow as the Philippines already has the likes of Lassiter, Cabagnot, and Paul Lee plus veteran Gabe Norwood, all of whom can do damage outside.

The Iranians are heavily favored in winning this game, but with the new guys donning Philippine colors, can Team Pilipinas finally break the curse of Iran?

The Philippines is in Group F with Australia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Japan, and Qatar and is currently at third place with a 4-2 record behind the Australian Boomers and the Iranians with both 5-1 win-loss cards.

Team Pilipinas will take on Iran at 8:30 pm (Philippine time) tomorrow and here is the final 12-man lineup selected by coach Guiao:

Photo/Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas