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    PBA race to playoffs heats up as San Mig takes on dangerous Air21 Express

    Jan 11, 2014
    San Mig assistant coach Jeffrey Cariaso says the Air21 Express are a lot better than what their record says. Dante Peralta

    EVEN without coach Tim Cone presiding San Mig Super Coffee’s practice the past few days, the team is confident it can carry on the momentum of its huge upset win over Ginebra last week into its Saturday clash against Air21 in the PLDT myDSL-PBA Philippine Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.

    Cone is expected to arrive early Saturday to call the shots for the Mixers in their 3:30 p.m. encounter with the Express following a five-day trip to the US to attend the NBA D-League Showcase primarily to scout prospective imports for the mid-season Commissioner’s Cup.

    San Mig and Air21 are coming off contrasting wins.

    The Boosters, currently in seventh place with a 4-7 record, snapped Ginebra’s six-game winning run with an 83-79 victory, while the Express (3-9) pulled the rug from under three-time All-Filipino Cup champion Talk ‘N Text, 102-100.

    “We understand how crucial this (Air21) game is for us,” said San Mig assistant coach Jeff Cariaso, who presided over the team’s practice in Cone’s absence the past days with the help of fellow deputies Johnny Abarrientos, Olsen Racela, and Richard del Rosario.

    “We can’t take Air21 lightly because di naman sila mukhang mahina. They are obviously a lot better than their record,” he added.

    The Mixers took two overtimes to beat the Express during their first meeting this season, 92-83, where six players scored in double figures for San Mig led by Mark Barroca’s 15 and the twin 15-point outputs of Marc Pingris and Rafi Reavis.

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    Cariaso said the biggest challenge for the Mixers now is how to find ways to neutralize Air21’s man-mountain Asi Taulava, who is averaging double-double numbers of 13.6 points and 14.5 rebounds this conference.

    At 40, the 6-foot-10 Taulava isn’t showing signs of slowing down as he still averages 37.7 minutes per contest.

    “Whoever guards Asi will always be a challenge. You know Asi, he takes good care of himself,” noted Cariaso. “He gives them (Express) the veteran edge.”

    For Air21 coach Franz Pumaren, the game against San Mig remains a “no-tomorrow” match for his team as a loss could deal a significant blow to the Express’ playoff hopes.

    “The bottom line right now is we really have to win our last two games. I think if we do that, we can be assured of at least a tie (for the No. 8 spot),” Pumaren said.

    A tie for the No. 8 spot requires a one-game playoff to determine which team will earn the last playoff spot.

    Pumaren said playing the Mixers requires a far more efficient performance than they did in their upset win over the Tropang Texters.

    “If you’re gonna base things on how they (Mixers) play against Ginebra, I think we have to play an excellent game to beat them. I’m still hoping our players who get the minutes with us can really play up to par,” he said.

    “The bottom line here is everybody will have to play very well.”

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    San Mig assistant coach Jeffrey Cariaso says the Air21 Express are a lot better than what their record says. Dante Peralta
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