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I have seen them play in their recent game in China. I think they can beat big teams and a bit of polish on their offense.

JORDAN Clarkson is on his way to Manila with barely three weeks left before the FIBA Basketball World Cup tips off. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF JHAY OTAMIAS

Finally, Jordan Clarkson boarded a plane going to Manila while his team — Gilas Pilipinas — is starting to peak entering the final stretch of its preparation for the FIBA Basketball World Cup that the country will host from 25 August to 10 September.

Clarkson boarded a Philippine Airlines flight to Manila from the Los Angeles International Airport on Monday and is expected to land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Tuesday morning.

According to his father, Mike Clarkson, the Utah Jazz swingman is expected to hit the ground running as he joins the Gilas training immediately as well as in their tune-up matches against Montenegro on 20 August and Mexico on 21 August.

Gilas are also set to arrive from China on Tuesday and are expected to train with Clarkson on board on Wednesday.

Aside from Clarkson, also expected to join Gilas is 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto.

Sotto, who has been hampered with a back injury that he suffered during the National Basketball Association Summer League is set to join the final stretch of Gilas training pending the result of his magnetic resonance imaging test.

With Clarkson and Sotto’s looming arrival, things are looking rosy for the Filipino cagers, especially now that they will be at full strength with a vastly-improved defense.

Gilas displayed their defensive intensity in their 75-63 win over Senegal in the WUS International Basketball Tournament in Heyuan, China last Sunday, prompting Gilas coach Chot Reyes to beam with optimism as they are starting to reach their peak.

“All throughout our preparation, our focus was to improve our defense and even in the first half, we only gave up 39 points. We thought our defense kept us close while our offense was struggling. Even in the third quarter,” Reyes said.

“That’s what defense does. It allows you to stay in the game and then when you get hot, this is what happens. In the fourth quarter, we finally got our shots and made some offensive adjustments.”

Gilas are playing against Iran-B at press time for a win that will boost their momentum before flying home for the final leg of their buildup.

But while Gilas are now jelling, other teams in Group A are starting to crumble.

The Dominican Republic, which will face Gilas in the opener, will be flying without its two NBA players in Chris Duarte of the Sacramento Kings and Al Horford of the Boston Celtics while Angola lost to Mexico and Asian powerhouse Jordan in the Kings Cup tourney in Amman despite the imposing presence of Atlanta Hawks center Bruno Fernando.

Italy, however, is looking sharp as it clobbered China, 79-61, to rule the Trentino Basket Cup, a friendly series that serves as a warmup for the World Cup.

Philippine Basketball Association coaches Chito Victolero of Magnolia and Frankie Lim of NLEX like how things are going for Gilas.

Victolero, whose wards lost to Gilas in a friendly match, said the Filipinos are playing well even without Clarkson, Sotto and injured Scottie Thompson.

“Without Kai, JC and Scottie, I liked what I saw in their improvement, especially in their chemistry. They understand coach Chot and coach Tim’s system and their offense and defense were fluid,” Victolero said.

“For our opponents, we just try to respect them. We don’t know what is happening within their circle.”

Lim said he likes what he is seeing and he expects Gilas to be better once Clarkson jumps in.

“I have seen them play in their recent game in China. I think they can beat big teams and a bit of polish on their offense,” Lim said.

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