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What will Bay Area Dragons bring to the 2022-23 PBA Commissioner's Cup?

East Asia Super League outfit Bay Area Dragons will become the first guest team competing for a PBA championship in 19 years when they participate in the upcoming 2022-23 Commissioner's Cup. Bay Area Dragons

For the past few weeks, Kerry Sports Manila in Bonifacio Global City has been the venue for the longest unofficial winning streak among Manila-based professional teams.

The facility is where the East Asia Super League (EASL)'s Bay Area Dragons are practicing for the upcoming 2022-23 PBA Commissioner's Cup, and where they have convincingly beaten every opposing team that has shown up for a tune-up game.

It's often not advisable to read too much into these tune-up games that PBA teams play in the lead-up to a coming conference, with coaches usually shuffling their players and using the games to run new things on both ends of the floor.

But the manner by which the Dragons have dispatched their opponents has become difficult to dismiss, especially since this team was only formed a few months and is soundly beating collegiate and professional teams that have been together much longer.

The Dragons are composed mostly of Chinese players led by 7-foot-5 Liu Chuanxing and reinforced by NBA veteran Andrew Nicholson and seasoned G-League campaigner Myles Powell, although only Nicholson will be eligible to play in the Commissioner's Cup.

Also on the team is 6-8 Duncan Reid, who has played for Hong Kong at FIBA Asia level. At the helm is Australian coaching legend Brian Goorjian.

They're tall, well-drilled and from the looks of things, adapting quite well to the Filipino brand of basketball.

"I love it," said assistant Bill Tomlinson minutes after the Dragons topped NLEX Road Warriors, 111-104, on Friday for their 8th straight win.

"It's a very basketball-crazy country. The teams we've played are always well-coached. They have this style of play that's like very fast.

"They move the ball, and that's because they're smaller in size than a lot of the other teams. But I love the way they play, and I enjoy the games, I really enjoy the games.

"And they play physical. It's like they have Manny Pacquiao blood in them."

The Road Warriors are just the latest in a growing list of teams that the Dragons have beaten.

Others that have fallen by the wayside include the Ateneo Blue Eagles, St. Benilde Blazers, Blackwater Bossing (thrice), Terrafirma Dyip and Converge FiberXers.

They are tentatively scheduled to face Phoenix Super LPG and Barangay Ginebra in the coming week.

Now granted, none of those three PBA teams they have previously beaten has ever been in a finals, let alone won a championship. This is not lost on Tomlinson.

"We haven't really scouted a lot of teams yet, but we did watch the (Philippine Cup) finals series and we haven't met that level of play yet," said Tomlinson, who finished coaching the NLEX game after Goorjian left just before halftime for a meeting at the PBA office.

"We've been playing the teams - and they're all good from the top third down. We're looking forward to San Miguel (Beermen) and those other teams. That's a different level to get.

"We're a new team, so we must play our best every game. We're just still trying to lay the foundations. A lot of these teams are down the track on that. They have a history of playing together, like San Miguel and TNT (Tropang Giga).

"We take the win, and we're happy that we play hard. But we're not fooling ourselves thinking 8-0 is what it's gonna be."

Of all the teams, they've faced, Tomlinson was particularly impressed with the Blue Eagles, adding: "We played Tab Baldwin's university team. They were very good.

"They were really drilled and for young men, they did a really good job offensively and defensively. Each game we've played, like the team we played today (NLEX on Friday), that's another step up."

Tomlinson thinks the team still needs to work on a few things, particularly their defense against PBA teams' unique offensive style.

"Because we're a little bigger, we're a little slower," he explained. "Our ability to keep the Filipino player in front of us.

"So our one-on-one defense, we're working a lot on our footwork because the PBA style is drive and drive and they're quick. So that one-on-one defense is our big priority."

So far, opposing coaches have given mixed reviews.

Blackwater coach Ariel Vanguardia, whose Bossing have seen the Dragons up close three times, called Bay Area a "tall team that can shoot" and "definitely a playoff contender but (they) have to adjust to the physicality of the PBA".

But interim NLEX coach Adonis Tierra wasn't too impressed.

"I don't think they'll be a contender," Tierra said in Tagalog. "Other teams won't fear them. I'm not too worried about them."

Realizing that the PBA style is different and needs some getting used to, the Dragons tapped former PBA assistant coach Cholo Villanueva to join the staff.

Currently a head coach in the MPBL, Villanueva is tasked with educating Goorjian and the other coaches about the league and its players.

"He's great for us," Tomlinson said of Villanueva. "Really good. He reminds us that it's a physical game here and that's how it's played. And he's also a good reference of who we're playing and they style of play."

Villanueva is happy to be onboard, and is using the opportunity to soak up whatever he can from Goorjian.

"It's a different brand of basketball," said Villanueva. "The pace of his system, the offensive movements. Certain rules that you need to be reading and reacting.

"It's very different from what we're used to here in the Philippines."

It is unlikely that the Dragons will get to play the Beermen or the Tropang Giga before the opening of the Commissioner's Cup on Sep. 21, since both Philippine Cup finalists are in the midst of a two-week break.

But Tomlinson is impressed with both teams, particularly the Beermen, as he praised: "I think they could play in any league. I look at some of the players on those teams and they're very good.

"San Miguel has height and speed. They're pretty well much got it covered. I think they could play anywhere."

Tomlinson also called San Miguel center June Mar Fajardo "a big that can play anywhere," adding he could see The Kraken playing in Europe or Australia.

"He holds his own anywhere," Tomlinson identified. "He's gonna be a handful. I look forward to the match-up between him and Liu and I guess everybody does.

"He has very soft hands, and he's very relaxed when he gets the ball in the post. And that's the European style. He slows down, he's got soft touch with his hands, he can step out and shoot it. He reminds me very much of European style centers."

Tomlinson says while Filipino centers are undersized, they present their own unique challenges.

"There are some good bigs," he added. "That No. 7 that plays for TNT (Poy Erram). He got thrown out of the game the other day. I was disappointed because I love watching him play.

"He plays with so much passion. A Filipino big is probably not a Chinese big. But they're big. They're strong and they have their way of playing. They're very skillful."

Whether the Bay Area Dragons' unbeaten run in tune-up games is fool's gold or the real deal will be known soon enough.

But the team is ready for the challenge, even as they need to avoid getting pinned against the ropes.

"Every team we play is tough," Tomlinson said. "As I said, they play basketball (like) Manny Pacquiao.

"They're aggressive and they're in that boxer stance. They're all down and ready to go."