A HEALTHY and well-rested Alaska side seeks to make short work of Air21 in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup quarterfinal playoff on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Alaska coach Luigi Trillo expects the twice-to-beat Aces to be sharp a week of rest, but at the same time knows the eight-seeded Express will put up a big fight in the hope of forging a winner-take-all match on Monday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
“I’m excited because we have the twice-to-beat advantage,” said Trillo, whose team finished the 14-game elimination round on top with an 11-3 slate, the best record posted by the Uytengsu-owned franchise in the post-Tim Cone era.
But a healthy JV Casio and Sonny Thoss are what keep Trillo’s confidence at a high going into the playoffs.
Casio and Thoss played sparingly in the late stages of the eliminations owing to a knee and back injury, respectively.
“We’re looking long-term with him (Thoss, on the past games he didn’t play). But with Sonny now able to get his rest, he’ll be there to defend Michael (Dunigan, Air21’s import),” said the Alaska mentor.
Dunigan was one of the biggest reasons why the Express are in the playoffs, averaging 24.6 points, 15.7 rebounds, three assists, and 2.5 blocks in 42.1 minutes of play in the elims.
With Air21 one of just two teams to beat Alaska in the eliminations, (74-68), Trillo knows the kind of damage Dunigan can inflict on the Aces inside the paint.
And with shooting forward Nino Canaleta in peek form too, shooting an average of close to five triples in the Express’ last five outings, Trillo believes Air21 is no easy opponent.
His Express counterpart Franz Pumaren, meantime, said Air21’s bench players need to match the energy of Alaska’s loaded roster if it wants to forge a rubber match with the Aces.
“It will take a collective effort on our part to beat Alaska,” said Pumaren. “Everybody has been contributing in their own little way. So hopefully, we can follow up on that against Alaska.”