By Jonas Terrado
5 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs Magnolia
The Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok and Rain or Shine Elasto Painters seek a crucial victory up north when they clash in a PBA Philippine Cup out-of-town game tonight at the Calasiao Sports Complex in Calasiao, Pangasinan.
Magnolia needs to win the 5 p.m. Petron Saturday Special game to keep an inside track at claiming the twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals while Rain or Shine tries to pull off an upset and stay in the top four amid internal issues that have come out in recent weeks.
Both teams are looking to end the elimination round on a high note after contrasting results in their previous matches.
The Hotshots lost a double-digit lead and the top spot in the standings last Sunday after a 77-76 setback to the defending champion San Miguel Beermen that snapped a five-game winning streak.
But coach Chito Victolero has kept a positive approach despite the unfavorable result as Magnolia only dropped to a tie for second place with Alaska at 6-2.
“We’re still positive,” said Victolero. “We need to experience this kind of character-testing game which is we know we have a chance. So kung dumating kami sa dulo, sa playoffs, pag meron kaming ganitong laro, alam na namin gagawin namin.”
Paul Lee, who has missed the last two games, could make his return from an ankle injury while Mark Barroca, Marc Pingris and Ian Sangalang lead Magnolia’s bid to score a victory in the place known for its delicacies.
While everything seems fine at the Magnolia camp, it appears to be different over at Rain or Shine with rumors of potential trades for Jericho Cruz, Raymond Almazan and Beau Belga.
Despite the distractions, the Elasto Painters are in fourth place at 4-3 after a 90-84 triumph over Meralco to maintain an outside chance at the twice-to-beat advantage.
Rain or Shine coach Caloy Garcia hopes to make his squad continue to focus on the task at hand, rather than outside noise.
“I just have to think more of the team kasi kung maganda naman samahan namin, maganda rin yung kalabasan,” Garcia said.
Cruz, who Garcia said has expressed interest in being traded to NLEX and reunite with former coach Yeng Guiao, is expected to play his role along with Almazan, Belga, Chris Tiu, Maverick Ahanmisi, James Yap and Gabe Norwood, who yesterday turned 33 years old.
Tiu has emerged as Rain or Shine’s most consistent performer, averaging 13.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists this conference.
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