LEAGUE-leader Petron stakes its immaculate record against cellar dweller Air21 as both ends meet Wednesday in the PLDT myDSL-PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Game time is at 5:45 p.m. with injured guard Alex Cabagnot finally suiting up and Chris Ross a game-time decision, according to Petron coach Gee Abanilla.
The Boosters have so far managed to weather the challenges of playing with an injury-depleted roster by beating Globalport (97-87), defending champion Talk ‘N Text (77-63), San Mig Super Coffee (92-79), Barako Bull (96-90) and just recently, Alaska by a hairline, 86-85.
Vastly-improved sophomore center June Mar Fajardo, reigning league MVP Arwind Santos, and shooters Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz are all logging 37 minutes or more per contest this conference as they carry much of the load for the Boosters.
Abanilla, the former La Salle coach, said the team’s nine healthy players for the past games have an understanding that they just need to step up when their names are called, knowing fully their injured teammates won’t be out for long.
“We’re trying to build an identity for ourselves. That no matter what situation we face, we have to give our best,” said Abanilla.
Though facing Air21, which won its only game this conference over the weekend with a 92-77 rout of Barako Bull, Abanilla is wary of what the rejuvenated Express can do.
“We are also aware of how dangerous Air21 is coming from two overtime losses and a won game the last time out. But we just want to work hard and be the best that we could be,” said Abanilla, who is only in his second conference as Petron coach.
For one, the Express have made significant improvement on defense, holding their opponents to just 88.6 points in their last three games, as opposed to 104.6 points during their first three games this season.
Air21 star forward Mac-Mac Cardona, who missed the team’s first three games due to an MCL sprain on his knee, said the Express have been showing a renewed commitment to play tough defense.
“Kailangan magtiwala kami sa isa’t-isa. Every game, at least makikita mo ang progress ng team, saka `yung ball movement maganda na compared sa past games namin. Kita mo naman `yung talo namin, double overtime, overtime, tapos, at least wala nang overtime, kasi nakaisa na kami,” said Cardona.
Cardona is averaging 12.6 points and 5.3 rebounds, along with a career-best 2.6 steals in 32 minutes of action.
The game also marks the first meeting between veteran big man and former league MVP Asi Taulava against the 6-foot-11 Fajardo.