Leo Austria admits SMB has long been preparing to meet Rain or Shine in semis
"Pinaghandaan na namin (ang Rain or Shine) kaagad, kahit hindi pa sila naglalaro sa quarters (against Blackwater and TNT)," says SMB coach Leo Austria. Jerome Ascano

ONE glance at the PBA Philippine Cup playoff pairings and Leo Austria already knew what he had to do.

The San Miguel Beer coach admitted that he had been preparing his team for a semifinal series against Rain or Shine, long before the Elasto Painters survived a pair of knockout matches at the quarterfinal stage.

"Hindi na ako nagdalawang isip nung makita ko na nasa bracket namin sila," Austria said. "Pinaghandaan na namin sila kaagad, kahit hindi pa sila naglalaro sa quarters (against Blackwater and TNT)."

Austria has all the reasons to be worried about Rain or Shine.

The Beermen lost just two games on the way to topping the eliminations with Alaska, but one of their those defeats came at the hands of a Rain or Shine team which, he said, can beat them on any given day.

"Kung may team na kayang tumambak sa amin, Rain or Shine 'yon," he said.

For the Beermen to get past Yeng Guiao's troops in their best-of-seven Final Four match-up that begins on Tuesday, they have to stop Rain or Shine's running game as well as its armada of three-point shooters, Austria said.

That Rain or Shine big men Beau Belga, JR Quinahan and Raymond Almazan can hit the three-point shot also poses a big problem since it can draw out SMB big men June Mar Fajardo, he added.

"Hindi mo pwedeng iwan ang mga malalaki nila. Kahit sino dun pwedeng tumira sa labas," Austria said.

On the other hand, the return of top guard Paul Lee from an injury layoff gives Rain or Shine a player who Austria said can be the go-to guy at crunch time.

Austria said the Beermen have also been forced to limit the minutes of Fajardo, who he said is still bothered by the injuries that forced him to skip a stint with Gilas Pilipinas last year.

The 6-10 center has also been excused in some practices, he said.

The good news is, the long Christmas break has given injuries to Fajardo and Marcio Lassiter enough time to heal, although Austria expects the Beermen to struggle in Game One owing to rust.

Austria, who conducted a practice on New Year's Day, is also braced for a tough duel against Guiao.

"Napakagaling n'ya sa adjustments," Austria said of Guiao. "Talunin mo s'ya ngayon, bukas ibang-iba na ang team n'ya. Ganoon s'ya kagaling."

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