By JONAS TERRADO
Games Today (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
4:30 p.m. – Blackwater vs Kia
7 p.m. – GlobalPort vs Magnolia
Magnolia tries to end a two-game slump and regain ground in the race for a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals today when it battles a GlobalPort side coming off a crucial midweek win in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Losses to the defending champion San Miguel Beermen and Rain or Shine Elasto Painters have not damper the Hotshots’ chance of clinching the top two spot but will need to produce victories in their final two games to gain the elusive quarterfinal bonus.
That quest begins in the 7 p.m. contest with the Batang Pier, who pulled off a surprising 99-84 victory over TNT KaTropa two nights ago at the Big Dome.
The Hotshots are tied with the idle Alaska Aces for second at 6-3, half-game behind the 6-2 Beermen. All three teams clinched the first three quarterfinal berths with help from the Batang Pier’s upset of the KaTropa.
GlobalPort climbed to seventh place at 4-4, half-game above 4-5 Phoenix, one clear of 4-6 TNT and 3-5 Blackwater, which battles lowly Kia in the 4:30 p.m. opener.
Blackwater is on a high after the stunning 106-96 victory over San Miguel exactly a week ago at the Cuneta Astrodome. The Elite are favored to beat the 1-7 Picanto handily and catch up in the race for bottom seeds in the eight-team playoffs.
Paul Lee could likely suit up for Magnolia this time after missing the last three games due to ankle injury. Lee was in uniform warming up before Saturday’s 101-95 defeat to his former team Rain or Shine in Calasiao, Pangasinan but spent the whole game as a spectator.
Lee’s potential return could boost a Hotshots squad seeking some needed offensive spark to help the likes of Ian Sangalang, Mark Barroca and Marc Pingris.
Hotshots coach Chito Victolero is also looking for ways to clamp down on the Batang Pier’s group of unsung heroes which played key roles against TNT.
Nico Elorde had 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists but was lauded for his defense of TNT star Jayson Castro, center Yousef Taha scored 11 points and new signee Jeric Teng, GlobalPort coach Pido Jarencio’s former player at University of Santo Tomas, hit all of his nine points from rainbow country in the first quarter.
That gave main players Stanley Pringle, Sean Anthony, Kelly Nabong and Jonathan Grey the needed support that enabled Batang Pier to take a 26-point lead before weathering a mild KaTropa rally in the end.
Meanwhile, the PBA yesterday approved the trade that sent Rain or Shine’s Jericho Cruz to TNT KaTropa in exchange for rookie Sidney Onwubere, Kris Rosales and a first round pick in 2018.
The trade was given the green light after the KaTropa added the backup guard Rosales to the deal.