Dragons, Hotshots eye shorter route to semis
Magnolia may have been the best team outside of guest squad Bay Area at the end of the eliminations of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup, but that status means nothing for coach Chito Victolero, who braces for a difficult task against Phoenix in the quarterfinals.
“We don’t know what Coach Topex and his team will throw at us,” Victolero said as the Hotshots, armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, hope to hurdle the Fuel Masters in their 5:45 p.m. clash at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.
Bay Area, which edged out Magnolia for the top spot despite identical 10-2 slates, is favored to make short work of heavy underdog Rain or Shine at 3 p.m. as it brings back Andrew Nicholson in lieu of Myles Powell.
Like the Hotshots, the Dragons also carry a twice-to-beat edge, a bonus that makes the upset bid of the Elasto Painters doubly hard considering that they took the final quarters slot via a playoff win over the NLEX Road Warriors.
It seems like the opposite, however, if Victolero and the Hotshots are to be asked despite their 90-80 victory over the Fuel Masters last Nov. 12 at Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
Six players scored in double figures during that contest, with import Nick Rakocevic and Calvin Abueva each tallying a double-double for Magnolia.
But repeating that result will depend on which Phoenix team will show up come tipoff.
Phoenix had a roller-coaster of a campaign, opening the conference at 0-3 before going on a five-game winning run. A three-game skid followed before cementing its place in the quarters by beating Terrafirma at the close of the eliminations.
“We expect a dogfight and nothing’s going to be easy,” said Victolero. “This is the playoffs and there’s not going to be an easy game.”
Rakocevic, among the top five players in the early race for the Best Import award, is keen on making his presence felt and put Magnolia in the semis as early as possible.
Robinson and his Fuel Masters haven’t played in 13 days, and the long respite may also affect how they’ll try to force the Hotshots into a decider on Sunday.
Rookies Tyler Tio and Encho Serrano will be keys in completing that quest, if the two second round steals can show how they flourished during the eliminations.
The winner of this quarters meeting will face either Barangay Ginebra or NorthPort in a best-of-five semis.
Ginebra won the best-of-three opener, 118-102, behind Justin Brownlee’s 39-point barrage.