A PERENNIAL contender that has struggled of late and a young squad on the rise seek to catch the last bus to the PBA Governors’ Cup playoffs when Rain or Shine and Phoenix face off on Wednesday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Elasto Painters are the league’s benchmark in terms of consistency, having reached the quarterfinals in the last 12 conferences, including an impressive nine straight appearances in the semifinals.
But the reigning Commissioner’s Cup champions are now on the brink of elimination following an uncharacteristic up-and-down campaign that saw them finish the elimination round below .500 with a 5-6 win-loss record.
“This is really far off from where we want to be in this conference and where we were in the last nine conferences,” E-Painters coach Yeng Guiao admitted ahead of their 7 p.m. playoff against the Fuel Masters.
“The good news is were getting our import to blend with us – not as good as we want it to be, but it’s improving every game,” the veteran coach added, referring to Josh Dollard, who registered 27 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes in their 108-97 win against Star last Friday after tallying 18 points and nine boards in 35 minutes in his debut in a loss to San Miguel Beer.
Dollard, the E-Painters’ fourth import this conference, braces for a tough matchup against the prolific Eugene Phelps, who was not yet the Fuel Masters’ reinforcement when the E-Painters outclassed them, 106-89, in the elims.
“They’ve upgraded their import from the last time we played them, so they’re going to be harder to beat this time,” Guiao admitted of Phelps, who replaced Marcus Simmons. “They’re a totally different team with their new import.”
“They’ve been a dangerous team all conference long and we’ve been struggling, so sila, umangat, kami, bumabagsak,” Guiao added of the Fuel Masters, who are eager to impress as the newest franchise in the league.
The Fuel Masters, however, have lost their last two games to go from having a chance at the fourth seed to falling on the verge of getting eliminated.
The Phoenix veterans’ performance has left much to be desired. While it was understandable that JC Intal was still feeling his way in his first game back, Willy Wilson was held two points, eight boards, three assists in 33 minutes, and Cyrus Baguio could only contribute seven points, two assists, one boards in 23 minutes in their 96-87 loss to Ginebra last Wednesday in Antipolo.
“I challenged our leaders to finally step up and take charge,” Fuel Masters coach Ariel Vanguardia said on Tuesday. “We must match Rain or Shine’s experience with our hunger, hard work, and heart.”
“We are thankful to God for giving us so many chances to advance,” he added. “We must not let this slip away.”