Joe Devance's return exactly what doctor ordered for slumping Ginebra
Joe Devance ices his feet at the end of Ginebra practice on Tuesday. Karlo Sacamos

BARANGAY Ginebra is set to get a huge lift as Joe Devance could be back as early as this week after the team’s PBA Philippine Cup matchup against Kia on Wednesday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.

After missing the Gin Kings’ first seven games to recover from a long-delayed foot surgery in the offseason, the veteran utility man has practiced for two straight days and could return on Sunday in the team’s game against TNT KaTropa at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

“We had a target date: February 15th, but it looks like he might be able to be back sooner, so we’ll see,” Gin Kings coach Tim Cone said after practice on the eve of their game against the Picanto. “But not tomorrow. Maybe Sunday he’ll play.”

The 6-foot-7 Devance’s impending return is a big boost for the Gin Kings, who are hovering below .500 at 3-4, struggling to find a rhythm without their defensive anchor and point forward on offense – arguably their most important player.

More than his absence, Cone is frustrated about the rest of his team being unable to step up and keep themselves afloat, as well as other injuries hobbling the squad, with Greg Slaughter recently recovering from a hamstring issue, and Sol Mercado and Aljon Mariano also dealing with ankle injuries, although Mercado’s has already healed.

“We should be able to play without him,” Cone insisted. “I think that’s one of the frustrations is it’s not that we’re missing him; it’s that we should be playing better without him.”

“It’s not just Joe. It’s been the inconsistency of Greg – him in the lineup and out of the lineup, sometimes you have him, sometimes you don’t,” he added. “When you have him, he becomes your main player; Suddenly you don’t have him, so who’s going to be the main player? ... And we’ve had problems with Sol. He’s been struggling since he’s came back from injury. We lost Aljon. We thought he would be a key player, but then we lost him also.”

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“It’s just kind of been one thing after another. We’re hoping to smooth out,” he continued, with his team coming off an 81-78 loss to NLEX last Saturday.

Things are about to get smoother with Devance coming back.

“Hopefully,” Devance said. “I feel alright. I just got to get in shape. I’m not a hundred percent yet. There’s still some pain in my foot, my knees, but I’m feeling a lot better. I’m excited to start playing soon.”

“At first, I was okay with sitting out. I thought I deserved the rest, but now that I’m starting to train harder, I’m starting to want to get back out there,” he added.

For now, the Gin Kings can’t get ahead of themselves and look past the cellar-dwelling Picanto.

“We’re hoping we can get everything right at the right time. But in the meantime, we got to continue to try to win games, and we can’t let this Kia game slip, because we might get healthy and then have nothing to play for,” Cone said.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos