Magnolia enters a grueling three-week stretch starting Friday afternoon—and how it fares in that span will be crucial to its aspirations for a top-two finish in the PBA Philippine Cup.
Tied for the lead going into the second half of their schedule, the Hotshots brace for a dogfight one playdate after the other, starting with back-to-the-wall yet formidable Blackwater as Magnolia tries to keep its hot streak going at Mall of Asia Arena and gain an inside track to a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals.
“This game is very important, because a win would help solidify our chances for the top two,” coach Chito Victolero told the Inquirer after prepping his Hotshots for their 4:30 p.m. clash with the Elite.
He also needs to score a victory, just for some sort of buffer as their remaining assignments “are some of the top teams in the tournament.”
“We have the difficult situation of playing back-to-back games, with the second game being San Miguel,” said Victolero as Magnolia faces San Miguel next on just a day’s rest. “But with the proper mindset, and with the character that we have instilled in this team, I think we have a good shot at our goal (finishing in the top two).”
The Elite, on the other hand, will come into the game still licking the wounds of a three-game losing streak and are in a situation where they need to string together wins to have a solid shot at making the playoffs for the first time in this conference.
“That’s why we know that they will be very dangerous,” Victolero said. “We expect them to come out hard and we need to match their effort and aggressiveness.”
Blackwater, despite its 2-4 record, is no pushover.
The Elite have a formidable core made up of young talents led by Mac Belo and Poy Erram and own one of the upsets of the tournament, a 94-77 ripping of Barangay Ginebra, last year’s runner-up which played with a full roster when they clashed.
Magnolia, which will still play Rain or Shine, GlobalPort and Meralco after its bout with Sa Miguel, holds a huge edge in the guard rotation with Paul Lee and Mark Barroca, and Victolero’s defense is one of the most unforgiving in the league.
“The good thing about our situation is that our fate is still in our hands,” Victolero said.
Meanwhile, the Elasto Painters try to shore up their own playoff drive when they battle the Bolts in the 7 p.m. game.
At 3-3 and in the middle of the pack, a win would put the Painters in the upper half of the draw.