TWO slow-starting contenders that are peaking at the right time face off on Saturday in the PBA Governors’ Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Rain or Shine and Star press their respective postseason bids as they collide and stake their winning streaks at 5:15 p.m. in a marquee matchup preceded by a skirmish between leaders Alaska and Barako Bull.
Hovering near the bottom of the 12-team standings early in the season-ending conference, the Elasto Painters have risen to the middle of the pack with an even 4-4 win-loss slate after winning their last three games.
Import Wendell Mckines has been consistently delivering solid numbers, but it’s the undersized 6-foot-4 big man’s budding relationship with the locals off the court that has spelled the bigger difference for the E-Painters.
“Wendell has been blending in,” Painters coach Yeng Guiao said. “We’ve had problems with our chemistry early in the conference, but he’s gotten to know his teammates a little better and we’ve gotten to know him a little better. So we’re a lot more cohesive in this part of the conference.”
“Medyo tahimik si Wendell dati, nangangapa at nahihiya, pero ngayon okay na siya, nakikipag-biruan na,” Mckines’ frontcourt partner, Raymond Almazan said. “Medyo nakukuha na namin yung camaraderie. Sa amin naman walang problema eh; pag may import na ganyan, kailangan ikaw yung mag-adjust eh.”
Alamazan even recalls Mckines saying “I don’t want to lose my job” amid the Painters’ early struggles and the import’s has been vocal ever since. It was evidenced in their 106-102 escape act against NLEX last Wednesday when he would be the one to motivate his teammates when the Road Warriors were in the middle of a monumental comeback that just fell short.
“Mas maganda yung vocal yung import mo para at least nasasabi niya yung mga gusto niyang sabihin sa amin, kaysa yung tahimik na hindi mo alam kung anong nasa loob niya,” Almazan said.
“So unti-unti na nagje-jell ang team,” fellow slotman Beau Belga said for his part. “Mas maganda na dito sa stretch na ‘to kami nagca-catch up.”
But the Painters are facing a Hotshots side that’s also starting to regain their fiery form. The defending champions have won back-to-back games behind a familiar defensive effort led by do-it-all import Marqus Blakely and Mark Barroca and Alex Mallari, while getting unlikely defensive contribution as well from Joe Devance, James Yap, and PJ Simon.
“That’s always been our way,” Hotshots coach Tim Cone said of their defense that proved key in their 89-82 win over Ginebra last Sunday. “That’s what we’ve talked about and tried to get back to and hopefully the guys are buying into it again.”