Art dela Cruz, Blackwater out to make most of lifeline after Rain or Shine defeat
Art Dela Cruz doesn't believe Blackwater will come out rusty after a one-week break. Jaime Campos

BLACKWATER seeks to take advantage of a lifeline thrown to the squad as it takes on Rain or Shine in a do-or-die match on Friday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum for the last ticket to the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs.

Their playoff hopes left hanging in the balance after losing their last game in the elimination round, 111-95, at the hands of Star, the Elite are suddenly back in business after the Elasto Painters lost to Alaska on Wednesday.

The result left the E-Painters tied with the Elite at the end of the eliminations with a 5-6 win-loss record, necessitating a playoff between the two sides for the eighth and last seed in the quarterfinals.

The Elite, though, have been idle for a week now or since their loss to the Hotshots last Wednesday, but Art dela Cruz insisted they kept themselves in tip-top shape.

“Wala naman (kalawang),” the sophomore star forward said in a short chat with SPIN.ph after practice on Thursday. “Tuloy-tuloy naman practice namin. Sunday lang pahinga namin.”

They even worked doubly hard on the eve of the playoff when what was supposed to just be a two-hour practice until 11 a.m. extended for another hour.

“Actually umabot nga kami ng 12 ngayon just to prepare extra against Rain or Shine,” Dela Cruz bared, offering the game as a birthday gift for coach Leo Isaac, who celebrated his birthday on Thursday.

[See Garcia admits he should've brought in James Yap much earlier in RoS loss to Alaska]

E-Painters coach Caloy Garcia believes his Blackwater counterpart whipped his wards into shape for the eventuality of getting a playoff.

“I don’t think they’re rusty,” Garcia said. “They had more time to prepare siguro kasi alam naman nila yung scenario na kami yung makakalaban nila if ever, so they were able to prepare.”

“And coach Leo’s been an experienced coach and he’s a very good coach, so maybe nagawan na ng puro scrimmage sila,” he added.

The Elite and the E-Painters took similar paths to end up where they are, putting up a solid start where they saw themselves in second spot at one point, only to go on a late losing streak – the Elite losing four of their last five games.

“We have to grab this opportunity to play in a knockout match,” Isaac said. “Energy and mental focus will be a big factor in order for us to win.”

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ROS walloped Blackwater, 107-93, in their regular-season meeting last December 9, but Dela Cruz believes the E-Painters are left weary after coming off a heartbreaking loss to Alaska on Wednesday.

“Medyo pagod na sila, so yun yung nakikita naming advantage namin,” Dela Cruz said.

Garcia admitted their failure to clinch the playoffs outright has taken a toll.

“Yung mga players ko medyo pagod, pero there’s not time for any excuses,” Garcia said. “We just have to come out and play hard.”

ROS is one of only two teams that Blackwater hasn’t beaten since entering the league three years ago, according to chief statistician Fidel Mangonon III.

“We just have to be ready lang for a physical battle. Yun na ang culture nila eh,” Dela Cruz said of the E-Painters. “Pero nasanay na rin sila kay coach Yeng, kaya hindi sila basta magi-give up.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos