BARANGAY Ginebra braces for the tough challenge Mac Belo and Blackwater are expected to bring when the Gin Kings play the first of back-to-back games on Friday night in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Belo has stood out in his draft class, playing with maturity beyond his years and being the biggest difference in the Elite’s rise to relevance in their third year in the league.
Asked if Belo’s the early Rookie of the Year race frontrunner in his eyes, Gin Kings coach Tim Cone said he has “no doubt.”
“Is it even close?” the champion coach asked, referring to the race where Matthew Wright of Phoenix and Star’s Jio Jalalon are also contenders. “He’s turned that franchise around.”
LA Tenorio echoed his coach’s sentiment about Belo, who is averaging 16 points on 46.8-percent shooting, 7.4 boards, 1.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.6 block, against only 1.6 turnovers in 33.4 minutes so far.
“Oo naman (siya ang ROY race leader),” the Gin Kings star playmaker said in a short chat with SPIN.ph after practice on Thursday.
“The way Blackwater’s playing now, I think basically it’s because yung nadadala niya sa team – not (just) about his scoring or ability to dominate the game, I think yung presence niya lang talaga sa Blackwater, parang na-lift niya talaga yung team sa magandang position ngayon,” he added.
The Elite are tied with TNT KaTropa and Phoenix in fourth spot with a 5-4 win-loss record – just two wins away from matching their win total last season.
The Gin Kings, on the other hand, are a half-game behind the Elite at 4-4, tied with Alaska and Star and a win against the Elite in the 7 p.m. matchup will give them their first winning streak of the season-opening conference following an 83-72 win over Meralco in Iloilo last Saturday.
It will also build momentum heading into their game against Phoenix on Sunday
“It’s a big weekend for us playing two teams ahead of us in the standings,” Cone said.
“Blackwater is legit and playing great basketball,” he added. “They are certainly a playoff team. They have real good young players, and we’re going to have to play smart and tough basketball to beat them.”