PBA: Guiao credits McDaniels for sparking NLEX's 3-0 start

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 16 2021 01:28 PM

NLEX import KJ McDaniels scores against TNT. PBA Media Bureau.
NLEX import KJ McDaniels scores against TNT. PBA Media Bureau.

MANILA, Philippines -- They've had a relatively favorable schedule, but NLEX coach Yeng Guiao believes that the catalyst for their strong start to the 2021 PBA Governors' Cup is American import KJ McDaniels.

The Road Warriors have won their first three games of the conference, starting with a 114-102 upset of San Miguel Beer, followed by a 120-115 overtime win against NorthPort. On Wednesday night, in front of 1,480 fans at the Araneta Coliseum, they held on for a 102-100 triumph against the TNT Tropang GIGA. 

All three of their opponents made the playoffs in the Philippine Cup; TNT is the defending All-Filipino champion and San Miguel is a perennial championship contender. 

But Guiao feels that the Road Warriors got to play them at the perfect time.

"Matagal nagbakasyon 'yung TNT, tapos siyempre meron pang hangover 'yan from the championship. So, swerte kami sa schedule. Swerte kami sa timing," Guiao acknowledged after their win against the Tropang GIGA.

"We're able to play the tough teams while they're still not a hundred percent ready. Again, that's the luck of the draw," he added.

Yet more than the schedule, Guiao believes that it's the presence of McDaniels that has sparked their strong play. 

The 28-year-old McDaniels, a former NBA player, is averaging 33.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game for NLEX. Against TNT -- the team he played for in the 2019 Governors' Cup -- McDaniels put up 33 points and eight boards in 40 minutes.

"Ang susi sa mainit na simula ng NLEX ay si KJ McDaniels," Guiao declared. "KJ is getting better, as I said. He's getting in better shape. I guess it feels good to beat your former team, for him. So, maybe he had extra motivation."

"Getting the right import is crucial in an import conference. I feel we have the right import," the coach also stressed. "And then, we're jelling together with the locals."

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Guiao lauded McDaniels' chemistry with rookie Calvin Oftana, as well as the steady play of veterans such as Kevin Alas, Don Trollano, and JR Quinahan.

"Nagje-jell na eh, nagsa-sama-sama na. We have a great import, and he's keeping us together," he said.

McDaniels was quick to deflect Guiao's credit, however, saying: "First, it's about the team. I can't do it all by myself."

"It's a team effort. Like every game, it comes down to the team. It doesn't come down to just one person. And they do a great job of lifting me up, playing defense, knocking down their shots, and just keeping me uplifted, like when my head is down," he added.

"My teammates, credit to them for having that discipline and having that hunger to come out here and start the way we start."

McDaniels also stressed the need for NLEX to move on to the next game, citing the need for further improvement. The TNT game marked the second straight time that they had gone down the wire, and the Road Warriors nearly squandered a double-digit lead because of late turnovers.

Those games are learning experiences, said McDaniels, but he wants his team to make quick improvements.

"It's great to start off, but we got a lot more games to go. So, get a win, gotta move on to the next one, and get ready for the next opponent," he said.

"I feel like once we have a big lead on a team, we have to just keep pressing the gas and keep going, and playing like we're down. Once we play like we're down, with desperation, that's when we separate ourselves from the rest of the teams," he added.

"So you know, it's a great start. I feel like they were all like grinding wins. But we don't wanna have those, we wanna come out from the beginning. Once we have a good lead, we have to keep it and keep a defensive mindset."

NLEX returns to action on Saturday against the TerraFirma Dyip.

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