by Waylon Galvez
Games Jan. 6, 2017 (Mall of Asia Arena) 4:15 p.m. – GlobalPort vs Meralco 7 p.m. – San Miguel vs Blackwater
In a trade that sent them to their new teams, Rain or Shine top gunner James Yap and Star ace guard Paul Lee are both determined to prove their true worth when play resumes in the PBA Philippine Cup.
The two players were involved in a blockbuster one-on-one trade that shipped Lee to the Hotshots in exchange for Yap that ended the latter’s 12-year reign as the face of the Star franchise.
“Maganda na so far ginagawa ng team, sana nga magtuluy-tuloy sa pag-pasok ng bagong taon,” said Yap, who, despite missing the team’s first two games because of a right knee injury, has played well this conference.
“Alam naman natin na mahigpitan talaga labanan kasi dikit-dikit ang teams and papasok na ng playoffs. So every game magiging crucial, pahirap na ng pahirap. So tuloy lang kami to work hard,” added Yap.
Rain or Shine, despite the departure or Lee and the surprising exit of longtime veteran coach Yeng Guiao (now with NLEX), is currently tied for second and third places at 4-2 with TNT Ka Tropa – one game behind defending champion San Miguel (5-1).
The former two-time MVP Yap collected 13 points on 3-of-7 shooting from three-point territory as the Elasto Painters handed Guiao and the Road Warriors a 107-97 beating last Dec. 23.
Aside from Yap, the reason why ROS is currently among the league leaders are the consistent plays of the veterans including Jeff Chan, Beau Belga and Gabe Norwood, as well as the continuous improvement of second year guard Jericho Cruz and sophomore guard Maverick Ahanmisi.
“It’s a total team effort, that’s the reason why we’re here,” said ROS new mentor Caloy Garcia. “The chemistry is already there, but we still have to continue working for us to improve as a team.”
As for Star, the last time it played, the team lost to Barangay Ginebra San Miguel during a Christmas Day game, 86-79, that snapped the team’s three-game win streak for a 3-3 card – tied with the Kings, the Alaska Aces and the GlobalPort Batang Pier for sixth to ninth spots.
Lee did score 20 points, but shot just 5-of-12 from the field including 3-of-7 from three-point area. He also got little help as Marc Pingris and Allein Maliksi were the only double-digit scorer with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Star’s rookie guard Jio Jalalon was held scoreless as he missed 10 shots from the field.
“May mga natutuhan naman kami sa mga naging talo namin, not only against Ginebra,” said Lee. “Importante is dun sa mga talo, may mga natutuhan kami dapat na mga bagay.”
“So ngayong 2017, sa pagbabalik namin, alam ko mas magiging preparado kami. Hindi magiging madali, pero malaki ang tiwala ko na maganda ang ilalaro namin sa pagpasok ng bagong taon,” added Lee.
The tournament format will have the top eight teams earning quarterfinal slots – with the top two gaining twice-to-beat incentives opposite the seventh and eighth qualifiers. The third to sixth teams will play in a crossover best-of-three quarterfinal showdown.
The semifinal series will be a best-of-five series, while the final round is a seven-game affair. The last four teams after the elimination round will be automatically eliminated from the playoff race.