AIR21 puts its winning streak on the line as it clashes with Rain or Shine Saturday in the PBA Philippine Phoenix Road Game on Tour at the Mindanao Civic Center in Tubod, Lanao del Norte.
The Express have been hot of late, winning their last three games, including a tension-filled 104-103 victory against the Alaska Aces on Wednesday.
The spate of victory allowed Air21 to catch up with idle Barangay Ginebra and Petron in the standings at 4-5. Another win will shove the Express into a tie with Alaska at 5-5 and a better position in the standings going into the homestretch of the eliminations.
Coach Franz Pumaren however, is not about to take things easy, aware that beating Rain or Shine won’t be a walk in the park.
“We’ll be playing a very strong team in Rain or Shine,” said Pumaren, whose team’s win over the Aces was its first against team belonging in the upper bracket of the standings.
“If you look at the conference, this is the first time we beat a .500 team. I hope we could sustain it,” said Pumaren.
“I also hope Mike (Cortez) will be 80 or 90 percent in game shape already when we face Rain or Shine,” added the Air21 coach in referring to his newly-acquired prized point guard from Ginebra.
Express bruising forward Rob Reyes added Air21 is now playing with a lot of confidence, mainly because they are now more comfortable with their respective roles.
“I think the guys are now getting more comfortable with their roles. And everybody really knows their role in the team. We don’t feel like we’re in a box,” said Reyes.
The Air21 big man, incidentally, is scheduled to meet PBA commissioner Chito Salud prior to the game, owing to the extra motion he did against Alaska rookie Calvin Abueva in their game Wednesday.
Rain or Shine however, has always been a dangerous team coming off a loss.
The Elasto Painters fell ambush against the Petron Boosters last Wednesday, 86-96, in a game that saw Rain or Shine struggle against the relentless defense of their opponents after being held to a poor 39 percent shooting from the field.
Rain or Shine fell to a 6-3 (win-loss) record following the setback.
Despite playing without its two top young players in last year’s Rookie of the Year Paul Lee (shoulder injury) and rookie Chris Tiu (hamstring), Guiao managed to harness the team’s talent by getting quality production from guys like Jireh Ibanes, Ryan Arana and TY Tang.
The Express’ frontline will also have its hands full against their Rain or Shine counterparts which boasts of Beau Belga, JR Quinahan, Larry Rodriguez and the vastly improved Jervy Cruz.