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TNT aims to stay alive; Magnolia eyes semis

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PBA ROGER Pogoy will provide veteran experience when TNT Tropang Giga battles Magnolia in the quarterfinals of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

Games today:

(Philsports Arena)

4 p.m. — Phoenix vs Meralco

8 p.m. — Magnolia vs TNT


The fight for survival is on as TNT Tropang Giga seeks to live another day and force a sudden-death showdown with topseed Magnolia in the quarterfinals of the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup today at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.

Action fires off at 8 p.m. with the Tropang Giga looking to sustain the momentum they gained after securing the eighth and last quarterfinal berth following a masterful 116-96 victory over Phoenix Super LPG over the weekend.

With the loss, the Fuel Masters fell all the way to the fourth spot and will have to get rid of dangerous Meralco in the first game at 4 p.m. to advance to the next round.

Magnolia, San Miguel Beer, Barangay Ginebra and Phoenix are armed with twice-to-beat incentives over TNT Tropang Giga, Rain or Shine, NorthPort and Meralco, respectively, after bagging the top four spots in the elimination round.

But the wounded Tropang Giga will be trekking a very dangerous road against a Hotshots squad that is nothing but consistent all throughout the tournament.

In its previous triumph over Phoenix, TNT was left without a choice but to field a pair of ailing players just to secure its slot in the quarterfinals.

Jayson Castro, who’s been bothered by tendinitis, played on minutes restriction, while Roger Pogoy returned after nearly eight months of inactivity since being diagnosed with a heart condition.

Still, these old warriors showed up and delivered a memorable performance to lift the Tropang Giga to the playoffs.

Against the Hotshots, the Tropang Giga will need more than that as everybody — from the local players like Calvin Oftana to import Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson — have to step up to essay a massive upset.

“It’s a welcome sight having Roger and Jayson,” TNT coach Jojo Lastimosa said.

“But Jayson’s knee is still hurting. We’ve been struggling in this conference. A lot of guys were hurt and we even lost Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson) and we have to change in the middle.”

“But we’re hoping we can fix our problems going to the quarterfinals against Magnolia. Magnolia has been No. 1 the whole season, a tough team to crack. I’m just hoping we can improve our game little by little.”

True enough, Magnolia will be no easy foe.

Despite winning nine of their 11 matches ion the eliminations, the Hotshots will face the Tropang Giga with a lot of caution knowing that they are capable of pulling off an upset.

“The players know that every time they go to the playoffs, their mindset should be how to advance to the next round,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, who will be banking on import Tyler Bey with local stars Paul Lee, Jio Jalalon, Mark Barroca, Ian Sangalang and Abueva as support crew.

Meanwhile, after teetering on the brink of securing the No. 1 spot when it beat Magnolia, 85-80, in an out-of-town game in Iloilo, Meralco suddenly dropped out in the race for the top four.

Even worse, the Bolts, who ended up at No. 5 after finishing in a four-way tie with San Miguel, Ginebra and Phoenix, are now facing a twice-to-win disadvantage against the Fuel Masters.

With the conference on the brink, Meralco coach Luigi Trillo’s excitement had turned to apprehension now that they are hard-pressed to win in hope of pushing it to a no-tomorrow encounter.

“We just have to grind it out, figure out a way of salvaging this game on Wednesday,” Trillo said.

“We’ll take it one game at a time.”

The Fuel Masters had been impressive all conference long by making the right new inclusions in the squad — from finding the right import that fits in National Basketball Association veteran Jonathan Williams to acquiring rookies Ken Tuffin, Ricci Rivero, Raffy Verano and Matthew Daves.

Phoenix coach Jamike Jarin, now having a full season at the helm, is determined to see how far his already overachieving wards can go.

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