WHEN they look at their respective PBA schedules these days, coaches don’t look past Blackwater anymore.
Regarded as a minnow in their first two years in the league, the Elite have finally earned respect after upgrading their roster with key additions, most notably rookie sensation Mac Belo.
And Rain or Shine coach Caloy Garcia is well aware of that as his team braces for a vastly improved Blackwater side in their PBA Philippine Cup matchup on Friday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
After the Elasto Painters dispatched Mahindra in a game where they led by almost 50 points, Garcia reminded his team that the rest of the league is a force to be reckoned with – and they took a reality check after surrendering an 81-74 decision to Ginebra last Sunday for their first loss in three games.
“Sabi ko nga sa mga players, tapos na ang bonus game which is Mahindra,” Garcia said frankly. “After that, every team now, everybody matches up well with anybody, everybody can beat anybody right now.”
Garcia's attitude toward the two teams mark a stark change, barely a conference after Mahindra made the playoffs for the first time in its young history and Blackwater bombed out early.
The Elite are now definitely seen as contenders and not even a 99-92 loss to TNT KaTropa – their first in three games – last Friday can remove them from the conversation.
“We just can't relax,” Garcia said. “The positive thing is, that was the first loss that we have even with tune-up games. We just have to see how good we are after a loss.”
The E-Painters and the Elite seek to get back on the winning track when they face off at 4:15 p.m. in a game succeeded by the match between sister teams TNT KaTropa and Meralco.
Garcia is expected to extend the playing time of fit-again James Yap after managing his minutes in his first two games, while hoping for Maverick Ahanmisi to step up after taking a handful of forced shots that hastened their downfall against the Gin Kings.
“Sabi ko sa kanya is you have to be a good point guard, and the only way you can be a good point guard is if you know how to set up the plays, look for the mismatches and distribute the ball,” Garcia said of Ahanmisi.
“I think it's lessons learned,” he added of the sophomore playmaker. “We have to adjust now on how Maverick can look for the mismatches.”