STAR gets a fitting warm-up before the playoffs as it takes on an Alaska side that’s starving for a victory in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday night at the Cuneta Astrodome.
The pacesetting Hotshots and the slumping Aces are jockeying for positions on different sides of the standings ahead of the 7 p.m. match, which should provide a clearer picture in the playoff race.
“We’re gunning for one of the top two spots, tapos yung Alaska, they’re looking at making the quarterfinals right away, so it’s a grinding, defensive game most likely,” Hotshots coach Chito Victolero said after practice on Tuesday.
“We’re looking forward sa very tough game kasi going into the playoffs, Alaska yung kalaban namin, so magandang preparation mentally and physically,” he added of the full-court pressing Aces. “Plus baka makatapat rin namin sila sa quarters.”
The Hotshots are tied with Ginebra at the top on 8-2 (win-loss) cards, and should finish the eliminations in the top three regardless of the result.
The seventh-running Aces, on the other hand, could end up in either one of the last three spots, making the playoff matchup against the Hotshots a possibility.
“Ang (mindset sa) practice nga namin, playoffs na eh, next level na,” Victolero stressed. “We’re not waiting for the playoffs this Sunday or Monday, but we’ve been preparing for the playoffs na starting nung preparation pa lang namin against Alaska.”
“We’re not taking for granted itong game namin na ‘to,” he added.
The Hotshots have won their last four games – the last with returning import Ricardo Ratliffe – and Victolero is pleased they’re peaking at the right time.
“Actually ngayon lang rin kami pataas,” Victolero said. “Naga-adjust pa rin si Ricardo sa locals. I think tama lang yung practice namin at mindset ng mga players, tama lang yung peak ng team, so maganda.”
The Hotshots, however, are facing an Aces side that’s eager to arrest a six-game skid that put to naught their four-game win streak to start the conference.
“I just want to see my team play again – the team that has been so resilient and comes back against great odds; the team that plays with their hearts on fire,” Aces coach Alex Compton said. “That is what I want to see.”