MANILA, Philippines – After Phoenix Pulse slumped to a third consecutive defeat in the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup on Sunday evening, Matthew Wright acknowledged that the Fuel Masters have lost "a little bit of our edge."
Phoenix has not won since beating Blackwater, 103-98, in their first game of the conference. They were crushed by TNT, 114-88, then lost Calvin Abueva to an indefinite suspension and coach Louie Alas to a two-game ban. They proceeded to drop their next two assignments without Alas, bowing to Meralco, 101-95, and to Rain or Shine, 89-82.
At 1-3, Phoenix is currently tied with Columbian Dyip for eighth and ninth in the league standings. Yet for Wright, more worrisome than their record is the way that they have been playing in their recent games.
"I just feel like we're losing a bit of our edge, with Calvin gone and Coach Louie suspended for a couple of games," he admitted after their loss to Rain or Shine on Sunday. "You know, those two guys – especially Coach Loue, believe it or not – he's a source of a lot of our inner toughness."
"You can see that when he's coaching," he added.
Abueva had been given an indefinite suspension by PBA commissioner Willie Marcial after a series of controversial events that saw him make lewd gestures at the girlfriend of Blackwater rookie Ray Parks Jr., then clothesline TNT import Terrence Jones in the fourth quarter of their game.
Alas, meanwhile, got a two-game suspension for "flagrant misconduct" when he shoved David Semerad during an early scuffle against TNT.
Wright stressed that the absence of Abueva and their head coach cannot be an excuse for their losses. Rather, he wants the Fuel Masters to recognize what has been lacking in their performances, and fix those issues to save their campaign in the Commissioner's Cup.
"I feel like we're just losing a little bit of our edge as a team, the edge that Phoenix has been playing with the last couple of conferences that you guys have been familiar with," said Wright.
"I thought that we're just getting a little soft, and other teams are taking advantage of that and out-physicaling us. Just beating us on loose balls and all those 50-50 balls," he added. "We have to address that immediately."
Phoenix was the top-seeded team in the All-Filipino Cup before losing to San Miguel Beer in the semifinals. Duplicating that feat seems to be a long-shot now given their 1-3 start and Abueva's continued absence, but Wright said the Fuel Masters have to make do with what they have.
"Like I said, everybody has to step up. We don't know how long Calvin is gonna be gone for, but we just have to take... what he brings is hustle, rebounds, toughness," he pointed out. "Guys just have to step up and be that, and try to be as Calvin as possible, if that makes any sense."
"We just have to find our way. We're in a little bit of a rough patch. You know, we've been on the wrong side of the media in the last couple of weeks, and I feel like it's kinda seeping into our mentality a little bit," he admitted.
"We have to arrest that immediately before this conference becomes 'sayang.'"
Phoenix will welcome Alas back on Saturday, when they take on Alaska at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
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