PLAYING a fluid game even without injured top gun Mark Caguioa, Barangay Ginebra tries to stretch its win streak to five when it goes up against a dangerous Air21 side in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup match up on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Caguioa is still listed as day-to-day due to a sprained MCL in the left knee he suffered during Barangay Ginebra's game against Meralco last March 22.
But Gin Kings coach Alfrancis Chua is confident he has enough firepower to fill the gap left by the reigning PBA MVP and his 22-points-per-game average, citing the increased scoring responsibility of LA Tenorio and contributions from role players like Robert Labagala, Elmer Espiritu and even Rudy Hatfield.
“When I handled this team, I had 18 practices lang tapos liga na. Ngayon, unti-unti, I changed some of the plays and I let them know their roles,” Chua told Spin.ph after the team’s practice on Tuesday at the Xavier gym in San Juan.
"Ang pinakamahirap sa lahat is to tell them they have to believe in themselves at magtiwala sa teammates nila."
At 5-5, the Gin Kings have an opportunity to go up to solo fourth spot with a victory over the Express (5-6), who had won four straight before dropping an 83-94 loss to Rain or Shine on Easter Sunday.
According to a tweet by SMC sports director Noli Eala, the earliest Caguioa can return to action is next week, "once he is pain-free."
Tenorio said Air21 is not a team they should take lightly considering that three of their key players – KG Canaleta, John Wilson and Mike Cortez – all previously played for Barangay Ginebra.
“Ang match up namin against Air21, it’s really going to be tough. Unang-una, yung mga players na galing dito, KG, John Wilson and Mike Cortez, they really want to prove something. They are focused when they play Ginebra,” noted Tenorio, who torched Barako Bull with a personal season-high 27 points on Palm Sunday in Ginebra’s 96-89 win at the Big Dome.
Import Michael Dunigan, making 26.6 points, 16.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 blocks per game, is again expected to spearhead Air21.
Dunigan banged in 26 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and added five blocks in leading Air21 to a 74-70 win over Barangay Ginebra in their first encounter. The Gin Kings though, had Herbert Hill back then.
Hill has since been replaced by Vernon Macklin who averages 23.4 points and 17 rebounds per contest.