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Dragons Torch Saigon Heat, Advance to ABL Finals

Two steps forward, one step back for the Saigon Heat.

In the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL), the Heat are one of the great success stories off the court, as witnessed by a sellout crowd for their Game 2 playoff tilt with the Westports Malaysia Dragons. But once again, the Heat bowed out without advancing, losing 89-76 and ending their season.

Once the Dragons built an early 23-11 lead after the first quarter, the league's top team was on cruise control. Their vast arsenal of weapons, notably American giants Reggie Johnson and Calvin Godfrey along with speedsters Jason Brickman and Matt Wright were too much for the outgunned Heat.

Team MVP Lenny Daniel made a game effort for the Heat with 27 points and nine rebounds, while teammate Paul Williams notched a double-double with 12 points and 19 rebounds. Johnson had a monster game for Malaysia with 32 points and 13 rebounds, while Godfrey added 26 points and 12 rebounds.

The quasi-blowout was a shame considering the boisterous, raucous home crowd packing the cozy Canadian International School stadium in District 7. Some of the game's more memorable moments included fan efforts to distract the visiting Dragon, leading them to move their bench onto the hardwood during timeouts and ignoring people dressed as pink cows, geishas and Power Rangers during free throws.

“We always feel like we can win games,” Williams said following the loss. “I'm proud of my teammates.

“It's my first year in this league, and these are the best fans overall. Great fan support.”

Despite the early exit, Vietnamese hoops fans can take solace knowing that domestic players have gotten more court time than in any of the previous season. Trieu Han Minh has proven the ultimate utility man, starting in place of injured Swedish star Stefan Nguyen and American import Moses Morgan at various times during the year, showing his hustle on defence and long-range shooting. Fellow national team members Ngo Tuan Trung and Nguyen Thanh Nhan also saw steady minutes during the season and garnered valuable court time during the playoffs.

With the arrival of the Vietnam Basketball Association this coming August, those same players will help grow the game of basketball even further throughout the nation. When Vietnam's hoopsters are on par with their regional counterparts, the sky's the limit for where this sport can go here.

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