by Jonas Terrado
Game Friday (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7 p.m. – Magnolia vs Rain or Shine
Magnolia immediately swings back into action as it battles well-rested Rain or Shine for the early advantage in the start of their best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Hotshots, coming off three-game quarterfinal series win over Ginebra that ended last Wednesday, look to draw first blood against the Elasto Painters in the 7 p.m. match.
Rain or Shine will see action for the first time since dispatching NorthPort, 91-85, five days earlier at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Hotshots coach Chito Victolero is confident that his players can withstand another difficult challenge after surviving 0-3 and 1-4 starts in the conference.
“We have a tough team coming up but I’m confident that my players given the situations they have dealt before,” said Victolero.
Paul Lee, coming off a 25-point performance, will face his former team for the second time in the playoffs, this time for a shot at making the finals of the season-opening conference.
Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon, Ian Sangalang, Rome dela Rosa, Justin Melton, Rafi Reavis and Robbie Herndon will also be key for Magnolia’s quest.
James Yap is also facing his ex-squad for the second time in the playoffs and will enter the series looking to build on his consistent showing this conference.
Beau Belga, Rey Nambatac, rookie Javee Mocon and Gabe Norwood are also keys for Elasto Painters coach Caloy Garcia, who’s also hoping to see Raymond Almazan return from an ankle injury.
Rain or Shine holds the psychological edge after topping Magnolia, 75-74, last Feb. 13 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Elasto Painters won it after Yap scored a three-point play in the dying seconds.
But things will likely be different this time with Magnolia playing like the team that captured last season’s Governors’ Cup crown.