Lions roar to semifinal sweep of Saigon Heat

SAIGON HEAT

By Harry Hodge
David vs. Goliath. Frodo vs. Sauron. The Saigon Heat vs. the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions.
The comparisons could go on forever; the top-scoring team in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) led by record-setting scorer Marcus Elliott against a Vietnamese side that crept into the ABL playoffs in the final berth. And despite some first-half heroics in Game 2 of their playoff semifinal, there would be no fairy-tale ending for the Heat, losing 86-79 and being swept out for the third consecutive season.
Hong Kong simply had too much firepower, as witnessed in their Game One spanking of Saigon in a 114-74 defeat that shattered ABL playoff records for margin of victory. In Game 2 it was former New Jersey Nets big man Josh Boone getting it done for Hong Kong, with 27 points to lead all scorers. ABL journeyman Tyler Lamb was not far behind with 26 points.
That said, the Heat made it a lively affair in front of a boisterous home crowd, playing for the first time at CIS Stadium in four weeks. Saigon brought some stout defence and capitalized on some early Lions miscues and surged to a 48-43 halftime lead. Even then Saigon had some dramatic moments, with key sparkplug Lenny Daniel taking an ugly spill and Vietnamese-Swedish marksman Stefan Nguyen left bloodied by an errant elbow. Daniel had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the home side. But as the game wore on, Hong Kong’s arsenal of weapons was too strong to overcome.
“We were ashamed after what happened (in Game 1),” a subdued Nguyen said. “We looked at ourselves in the mirror.”
He went on to say overcoming the team’s 1-7 early start also provided plenty of adversity for the team to overcome before they embarked on a remarkable 7-3 run to squeeze into the playoff picture. It was a sentiment echoed by teammate Moses Morgan.
“It takes a lot of guts to come back from 1-7,” he said. “We took (the Game 1 loss) personal.
“We wanted to come out and play hard.”
Still, at the end of the day, the Heat see themselves bounced in the semifinals. Head coach Tony Garbelotto said the loss summed up a season of might-have-beens, looking back at the injury woes the team dealt with, notably marquee offseason signing Christien Charles only suiting up for a handful of games.
“I’m proud of the players, playing as hard as they did,” a dejected Garbelotto said. “We’re all prideful individuals.
“We’ll close this up and see where we’ll go next.”
Indeed, for Vietnamese ballers, the SEA Games and VBA season are looming in the not-too-distant future. But for fans of the ABL, it’s difficult to imagine Hong Kong not hoisting the championship later this month.

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Heat bench get minutes in season-ending loss

SAIGON HEAT

By Harry Hodge
For the Singapore Slingers and Saigon Heat, the final game of the regular season provided rest for some and rare playing time for others.
With both teams having clinched playoff berths, the Slingers’ 86-71 victory would have no consequence on postseason rankings. The Heat would end the season with an 8-12 record, locked into a first-round ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) series with the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions.
Superstar Lenny Daniel got a rare night off for the Heat, allowing former Olympian Nguyen Van Hung a rare ABL start. The tae kwon do master is also expected to play a key role for Vietnam’s national team at the SEA Games in Malaysia this August, and put in a workmanlike effort with six points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. Bui Quoc Tan, another domestic star, logged more than 13 minutes of playing time and potted five points.
Slingers star Justin Howard dominated from start to finish, with an eye-popping 39 points and 19 rebounds. Singaporean Leon Kwek turned heads with a 13-point performance, while Xavier Alexander matched his 13 points and raised 10 rebounds for a double-double. Jordan Henriquez paced the Heat with 25 points and 13 rebounds.
The Heat came out flat before a packed house at Ho Xuan Huong Stadium, normally the home of their crosstown rivals in the VBA, the Ho Chi Minh City Wings. Daniel was notable by his absence, with the Heat sluggish on offence and only managing a 29-point first half. Singapore never trailed throughout the game, with former Heat big man Howard scoring at will.
“I wound up at the four-spot,” said Moses Morgan in the reshuffled lineup, who finished with six points at a different position. “(Nguyen Van) Hung got some good minutes.
Morgan said that the team would look different in Hong Kong, keying on Lions’ stars Marcus Elliott and Tyler Lamb. Game one will be April 5 in Hong Kong, with the second game April 8 at CIS Stadium in Saigon.

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Alab Pilipinas freeze Heat as postseason nears

SAIGON HEAT

SAIGON HEAT

By Harry Hodge
The Saigon Heat were flying high, winners of four of their last five, heading into a big ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) Friday night.
Alab Pilipinas brought the Vietnamese squad back to Earth, with a narrow 74-70 victory to improve to 9-6 and seal the season series between the two teams.
The story of the game was the lethal three-ball shooting by Filipino sniper Val Acuna, who led all scorers with 23 points, including seven bombs from beyond the arc. Teammate Sampson Carter contributed 19 points and 2 rebounds. Lenny Daniel led the Heat with 22 points and 20 rebounds, while teammates David Arnold, Moses Morgan and Stefan Nguyen all logged double digits in points.
The Heat’s strategy to stifle Alab stars Bobby Ray Parks Jr. and James Thomas Hughes left Acuna all alone on multiple occasions, and he made the most of his looks. The Heat managed to stay in the game despite numerous turnovers on errant passes, with Daniel banking in a Hail Mary three-ball to close out the first half at the buzzer with Alab leading 38-31.
“When they made their shots, we didn’t answer,” Daniel conceded after the game. “At key times, they made the shots (they needed to).”
One notable update from head coach Tony Garbelotto was that import Jordan Henriquez would remain with the Heat through the remainder of the season, giving Saigon stability at the center position after three other players rotated throughout the position earlier on.
” My two years, I’ve played with seven different five-men,” Daniel said, hoping that the big man’s presence will bring the team success with six games left.
Alab have virtually clinched a spot in the playoffs, while the Heat’s 5-9 record leaves them in the fourth and final position, but remain within striking distance of the Kaohsiung Truth and Westports Malaysia Dragons. The Heat head to Singapore for a mid-week match with the Slingers, and return Saturday to face Malaysia at home.

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Heat edge Alab Pilipinas to sneak into playoff conversation

SAIGON HEAT

SAIGON HEAT

By Harry Hodge
The Saigon Heat, who limped through the first eight games of the season, have suddenly come to life.
Battling for their lives in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) playoff picture, the Heat pulled out a gritty performance against Alab Pilipinas with a 78-74 victory Sunday night in Ho Chi Minh City. The win, coupled with losses by rivals Westports Malaysia Dragons and the Kaohsiung Truth, slide the Heat into the fourth playoff position at a record of 5-8.
The Heat are peaking at the right time, winning four of their last five games in dramatic fashion. Heat star Lenny Daniel led all scorers with 24 point and added 15 rebounds, while teammate Jordan Henriquez added his own double double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Henriquez has helped the Heat to two wins filling in for the injured Christien Charles, although the Heat may try to find a way to keep him around if Saigon continues winning.
Four players hit double digits for Alab, led by Sampson Carter with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
“We always believe in the game plan,” said Swedish-Vietnamese marksman Stefan Nguyen. “We know we can win every game.
“We’ve been playing with urgency the whole season.”
Saigon came out firing on all cylinders in the first half, leading 37-26 at the break. But Alab came alive in the third quarter, with the game tied 53 apiece heading into the fourth. Contributions from David Arnold and Moses Morgan sealed the game, despite some late jitters with an ill-advised three-shot foul by Nguyen on Alab’s Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. with seconds remaining in the game.
The next game should be just as intense, with both teams facing one another this Friday, once again at CIS Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City.

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The passing of my stepdad Jack

My stepfather Jack Gray was a pretty colourful character. Former president of ACTRA and the Writer’s Guild of Canada, despite being born in Detroit. Comfortable writing for MacLean’s Magazine in Canada or screenwriting for the BBC. A leading mind on intellectual property in my home country. Lived in Ibiza before it was overrun with hipsters and DJs. Put my list of “countries visited” to shame.
My mom brought Jack to our house in Ottawa when I was young enough to not really follow what was going on. Next thing I know, he’d moved in! I was 7. They decided to continue their courtship until my early 20s, when they eloped to Santa Fe, New Mexico. All they brought me was a belt!
Jack was much older, old enough that our respective eras sometimes were at odds…. But his calming influence on our household was evident. For a man who had already raised five children, taking on a single mom with two kids (including my brother, who has autism) is no small feat.
Jack took me to my first football game, Ottawa vs Toronto at Lansdowne Park, sometime in 1983. I had no clue what was going on, but he bought me a button with the Argos’ “boat” logo on it. Football was a thread for us; he fished me out of the drunk tank at the police station one Saturday morning and took me direct to football practice. He didn’t lecture me on being a wayward youth; he didn’t need to.
Years later, when I was scraping by in the UK working as a temp in London, Jack took me for maybe the best curry I’ve every enjoyed, in some joint he’d frequented for decades. The wait staff were as venerable as he was!
I don’t want this to be a long read; suffice to say he was a good man, and he lived a long and interesting life. He wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine; he’d drop an “up yours” on me from time to time. But my brother Nat and my mother Sandra are sorting out his passing last night as I write this. The main points are he was peaceful and passed on his own schedule.
He was adamant to not have a funeral, and so I will wait for a time to return to Canada with my wife and children when everyone has had time to process what happened.
I’m not great at conveying my feelings about these things, but we were lucky to have you, Jack. You were a keeper.

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Lions roar to easy victory over hapless Heat

 

SAIGON HEAT

SAIGON HEAT

By Harry Hodge

Things were starting to look good for the Saigon Heat after some early season struggles. Then the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions came to visit.
Like a well-oiled machine, the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) newcomers cruised to an easy 97-72 victory in Ho Chi Minh City, ending the Heat’s recent winning streak at two games.
Notable by his absence was former league MVP Christien Charles, a key offseason signing by the Heat who’s a crucial cog when he’s in the lineup. Sadly, that’s only been for three games so far this season as he’s battled injuries, and is now on the team’s three-game injured list as he seeks treatment in the United States.
Former Kansas State star Jordan Henriquez is the fourth player in 11 games to occupy the center position for the Heat, but his first game with the team was a mixed bag. Still he managed to record a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds but also led all players with seven turnovers. Lenny Daniel led all players with 32 points, despite being double- and triple-teamed once the Lions identified him as the Heat’s main threat.
Marcus Elliott, dubbed by Heat coach Tony Garbelotto as the “top closer in the league” showed up big-time, taking the team on his shoulders from the end of the first half onward. Elliott raced coast-to-coast and scored while being fouled with 0.2 seconds left at the end of the first half, a game that was still competitive at the time. But despite being down only 41-38 at halftime, the Heat couldn’t handle all of Hong Kong’s arsenal in the second half.
Elliott finished with 22 points, while three other teammates tallied double-digit point totals, including ABL journeyman Tyler Lamb with 21 points.
“Hong Kong had a game plan and stuck to it,” said Heat forward Moses Morgan after the game. “Tyler (Lamb) played really well, and we didn’t stick together.
“I put it on myself as the voice of the team, (but) hats off to them.”
The loss effectively puts the Kaohsiung Truth in the fourth playoff position for the moment, but there are plenty of games left in the season’s second half. The Heat’s next home game is Sunday, Feb, 26 at CIS Stadium.

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Heat extend winning streak as they top the Truth

By Harry Hodge

It ain’t over yet.

The Saigon Heat have come alive as the season hits the midway point, delivering a crucial 85-76 win at home over the Kaohsiung Truth to keep their hopes for the postseason alive.

The Heat put together a complete game, spurred by a 32-point, 15-rebound performance from Lenny Daniel and a 16-point, 11-rebound effort from Christien Charles.

“We stuck together, even when Kaohsiung came back (at different times),” said starting guard Horace Nguyen. “Our main goal is to get to the playoffs.”

Kaohsiung led early on but the Heat took over by halftime, with a 39-34 lead after scoring 29 points in the second quarter. The Truth’s Chris Oliver had 22 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough in the home stretch.

The Heat have two more home games this month, with the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions coming to town Feb. 18.

 

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