By JONAS TERRADO
Game Today (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7 p.m. – Magnolia vs NLEX
(Series tied 1-1)
The Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok and NLEX Road Warriors dispute not only a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup semifinals tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum but also the momentum in a game that could see the winner wrest full control of the series.
Both teams expressed confidence ahead of the 7 p.m. contest, though Magnolia seems to be the more-determined side after leveling the series with 99-84 victory Monday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.
With Paul Lee regaining his shooting touch and the rest of the team determined to give it all for injured leader Marc Pingris, the Hotshots showcased the all-around excellence that made them the league’s second-best team in the eliminations.
Magnolia coach Chito Victolero is hopeful that the team’s trademark defense would be successful yet again, particularly against NLEX’s main guns led by rookie guard Kiefer Ravena.
“I think we just need to focus more doon sa strength namin which is yung defense. Yun lang, kailangan lang namin ma-sustain ang ginawa namin (nung Game 2),” said Victolero, who has declared his team as underdogs owing to injuries.
Pingris is set to undergo a season-ending surgery after tearing his left ACL in Saturday’s 88-87 loss at the Big Dome, Justin Melton is day-to-day due to a hamstring problem while Mark Barroca is playing through an ankle injury.
Lee recovered from a 3-of-10 clip for eight points in Game 1 by knocking down 27 in a performance that should give the Hotshots confidence should he remain consistent throughout the series.
That would bode well for Magnolia with center Ian Sangalang being the team’s most productive performer and Jio Jalalon coming off a nine-point, six-rebound, 10-assist showing where he was also credited for limiting Ravena to just nine points and turning the ball over five times.
Road Warriors coach Yeng Guiao preferred to look at the positives.
“I just feel that even if we lost, I don’t feel that badly about it. I guess winning seven out of our last eight before this game takes a toll on you,” said Guiao, mentioning the stretch since the eliminations that allowed NLEX to advance to the semis for the first time in franchise history.
“We’re not as sharp as we needed to be. On the other hand, I guess on the other side, yung pagkawala ni Ping just added motivation for them. So ganun talaga. It’s just 1-1,” added Guiao. “But I’m sure we can play better in our next game. I guess the law of averages is going to catch up on you one of these days.”