(Mall of Asia Arena)
7 p.m. – Globalport vs Alaska (Game 1 best-of-seven semifinals)
(Mall of Asia Arena)
7 p.m. – Alaska vs Rain or Shine
(Game 1 best-of-seven semifinals)
News that Rain or Shine is back at full strength with the return of star point guard Paul Lee may have tilted a little the crown on the head of the defending champion San Miguel Beermen.
When their best-of-7 semifinal series in the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup starts on Jan. 5, not only will SMB has to deal with veteran starter Gabe Norwood, much improved slasher Jericho Cruz, backup point guard Chris Tiu and hard-driving rookie Maverick Ahanmisi, but also with the guy who used to do it all for the Elasto Painters before hurting his knee early in the conference.
And this has given SMB coach Leo Austria added reason to pause.
“Noong wala pa nga si Paul Lee e nagpapapanalo na sila, ngayon pa kayang babalik na siya?” Austria said on the phone yesterday almost to himself. “Added weapon siya for Rain or Shine. That’s why we have to come prepared for him as well.”
Although video tapes documenting Lee’s on-court brilliance are available, Austria said not having seen him actually play for some time presents unfamiliar concern for them.
“Noon, every time na makakaharap naming sila, talagang pinaghahandaan namin si Paul,” Austria said. “Ang mangyayari ngayon, we just have to anticipate kung ano ang gagawin niya sa laro; di namin alam kung ano ang puwede niyang ipakita e.”
Austria foresees a semifinal series waged with championship fervor.
“Kami ang biggest obstacle para makarating sila sa finals, sila naman ang pinakamalaking block para makabalik kami sa championship so talagang matinding laban ito,” he said.
The RoS-TNT knockout game in the playoffs was instructive, Austria said.
“That game sent a strong signal that they’re ready for everything,” he said. “Malaki na and respeto ko sa Rain or Shine umpisa pa lang ng conference because they kept improving kahit kulang sa tao. But that playoff game really showed how good they are.”
Then there’s RoS’ biggest asset: Yeng Guiao.
Guiao’s ability to make masterful adjustments in the shortest of times, said Austria, will go a long way to favoring RoS if the series goes the distance.