LEAGUE leader Alaska shoots for the first twice-to-beat incentive in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday night, it’s confidence still on a high after a huge come-from-behind overtime win over Rain or Shine.
But the Aces will have to get through the hottest team in the tournament in Barangay Ginebra to solidify its claim for the top quarterfinals spot in the mid-season tournament.
The Aces put on the line their league-best 9-3 record in the 7:30 p.m. game at the Smart Araneta Coliseum against the 7-5 slate of the streaking Kings who are on a six-game winning run.
Alaska coach Luigi Trillo said despite the Aces’ strong showing so far, what matters now is the way they will finish their campaign.
“We just put ourselves in a better position,” Trillo said, whose team just pulled off the improbable last week behind a rousing 89-84 overtime victory over the Elasto Painters in a game that saw the Aces rally from 22 points down.
“I told them it’s not how you start but it’s how you end. You can get all the first, second, and third places, but it’s who gets to the finals and who ends it well that matters,” added the Alaska mentor.
For the Kings, the biggest challenge is how to match up with the Aces’ big frontline, considering their starting big man Billy Mamaril will be out for the next four weeks due to a fractured right hand.
Much of the burden defensively and offensively will rest on the shoulders of import Vernon Macklin, who has been dishing out superb numbers since coming over as a replacement for Herbert Hill more than a month ago.
Macklin debuted for the Kings in a 69-84 loss against the same Alaska side last February 23 in Tubod, Lanao del Norte. But since that 15-point blowout, Ginebra has won seven of its last eight games, including its last six.
“I can start by saying that this is not a get-back game. I’ll just give my best and play hard. What happened in the past is past,” said Macklin, who averages 25.2 points, 15.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks.
The Ginebra import said the Kings have adjusted well since star guard Mark Caguioa went down with an MCL injury on his left knee two weeks ago.
Although Kerby Raymundo went down with a flu recently and Rico Maierhofer missed a couple of games due to a foot injury, Ginebra still managed to keep its winning streak due to the strong support provided by reserve players Rob Labagala, Elmer Espiritu, and Mac Baracael.
“We’re more aggressive since our last game. You see how Rob, Elmer, and Mac have stepped up. Rudy has been playing very well, too. Everybody is playing more intense,” added Macklin.
A victory by Ginebra will keep its hopes alive for at least the No. 2 spot and a possible shot for the second twice-to-beat edge in the quarterfinals.