With blazing backcourt, Hotshots cut Painters down to size
Coach Chito Victolero has always believed that Magnolia has the best backcourt players in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
The Hotshots made that claim hard to dispute in a scrappy win over Rain or Shine, 70-62, in the Philippine Cup on Saturday at Angeles University Foundation powered by Smart 5G.
“I created this backcourt—this bunch of small but pesky guys,” Victolero told reporters here at Smart Clark Giga City. “I expected this from them.”
Paul Lee scattered 31 points to help the Hotshots claim their fourth straight victory, the club’s third in just four days that kept them in the thick of the fight for a playoffs berth.
The combo guard unloaded 11 of his total points in the second period where the Hotshots buried the Painters in holes as deep as 20 points. Lee scattered 10 in the payoff frame to keep the game away from his former team’s reach.
Not as statistically conspicuous yet no less significant were the contributions of his fellow guards Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon and Chris Banchero, who all put the clamps down on Rain or Shine’s foremost weapons.
The Painters, as a result, had to rely on Kris Rosales and Jewel Ponferada who had 14 and 13 points, respectively as their famed backcourt of Rey Nambatac and Javee Mocon was limited to a scant total of 14 points.
Victolero credits much of his recent success—which has them on the outer fringes of a Top 4 berth—for peaking at the right time.
“While we’re not yet at a hundred percent, I feel like we’re at our preferred level of play,” he said in the postgame presser.
“Conditioning and rhythm—those have been our primary concerns going into the bubble,” he said. “Of course, preparation and recovery times here are restricted.”
It also helped Magnolia that it has kept its core intact in the past several years, according to Victolero.
“I guess our edge is that we’ve been together for four, five years,” he said.
Magnolia’s win doubly complicates a race that has been earlier muddled by the surge of another formerly struggling team.
Just like the Hotshots, NLEX is looking to win their third straight victory in this hell week where the PBA is staging quadruple- and triple-headers to make up for disruptions caused by a quelled outbreak scare.
Both teams are in the thick of the action for the bottom half of the standings, where teams are fighting to stay out of elimination.
“What has been important for us is that we have a [fighting] chance,” he said. “And that’s what I’ve been preaching to the players: Give ourselves a chance.”
And what a chance that will be for the Hotshots: They will close out relatively easier than most of their rivals as their last two games will be against flat-lined squads NorthPort (1-7) and Blackwater (2-6).
If Magnolia somehow sweeps those assignments, the Hotshots may catch a seat in the Top 4, which provides twice-to-beat protection for teams in the quarterfinals.
And the Hotshots got a big boost later in the night when TNT manhandled Meralco, 92-79, dragging the Bolts into the dogfight at the middle of the standings.
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