SEVILLE, SPAIN - Gilas Pilipinas takes on world power Argentina on Wednesday in the Fiba World Cup on Monday night (Tuesday morning, Manila time), keeping its fingers crossed that top player Andray Blatche will be fit enough to lead the charge at the Centro Deportivo San Pablo Pavilion.
Blatche, the naturalized player who averaged 24.5 points and 13 rebounds in Gilas' first two games, hurt his right knee during the 78-81 loss to Croatia in the opener on Saturday and was clearly bothered by the injury during the 70-82 loss to unbeaten Greece on Sunday.
Gilas' medical staff has worked round the clock to ease the pain caused by tendinitis, but the former Brooklyn Net and now NBA free agent has been listed as a 'game-time decision' for the match against a team ranked third in the world just behind Team USA and host Spain.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes, however, is confident the 6-10 Blatche will play against Argentina, saying the team's hopes of shocking the 2004 Olympic champions hinge largely on its naturalized player's fitness.
"I'm just hoping Dray (Blatche) can play so we can give them a good fight," said Reyes, who has led the Philippines back to the world stage after a 35-year absence.
Reyes sounded a lo more optimistic in the hours leading to the match, saying it looks like Blatche will be ready to play in the 5:30 p.m. game (local time).
Blatche's health, however, is just one of the many concerns for Gilas ahead of the game against the Argentinians, who are expected to come out with a lot more fervor and determination after dropping an 85-90 decision to Croatia on Sunday morning.
And with Senegal stunning the Croatians on Monday morning, 77-75, to tie its victim at 2-1 (win-loss) just behind unbeaten Greece (2-0 going to the game against Puerto Rico), Luis Scola and Co. can't afford to slip further behind in the race for the four berths in the knockout phase.
But with Blatche struggling to be fit, focus has now shifted to his prodigious back-up June Mar Fajardo, who played his finest game in a Gilas uniform on Sunday by scoring 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds against Greece.