THE race for quarterfinals slots in the PBA Philippine Cup is getting tighter and tighter.
The Bolts, currently languishing at 11th, simply want to arrest a three-game skid and move forward from there.
Phoenix intends to make more room for itself and further fan its chances when it tangles with a Meralco side aiming to resuscitate its flagging bid Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
A fifth win in nine games by the Fuel Masters would boost them into a share of fifth-running spot with idle Rain or Shine and Barangay Ginebra and move them closer to their immediate objective of landing among the top six following the 11-game eliminations.
Phoenix still has to take on Blackwater next Wednesday and GlobalPort at elims' end on March 2, but coach Louie Alas' focus is on the challenge at hand. "I told my players that Meralco's record is not a true reflection of their strength," he said.
"I mean, pag tiningnan lineup nila they're pretty strong," added Alas. "Saka talagang mahirap kalaban ang team na in dire need of a W."
"I'm well aware of what's happening in the standings," said Meralco coach Norman Black following a sorry 85-87 loss to NLEX last Friday.
"I always say this to you guys: When you lose a game you got two choices. You can sulk or go back to the drawing board and keep working. We'll go back to the drawing board and keep working and try to continue to improve and be more competitive so we can win games."
Even if the Bolts prevail Wednesday their task remains far from finished. They still have to win over Ginebra next Sunday and Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok on Feb. 24 to get a shot at inclusion among the top eight teams advancing to the next round.
Black, whose team has not finished higher than 11th in the last two editions of the import-less conference, remains unfazed. "We've been through this before in the all-Filipino so it's not the first time," he said.
Key for Meralco should be on how it defends the likes of Phoenix's snipers, led by Matthew Wright, Jeff Chan and RJ Jazul. The Bolts also need to address their rebounding after getting terribly beaten off the boards by an average of 21.5 caroms in two of their last three losses.
"We can't get outrebounded by 20 rebounds every game and expect to win. It's not gonna happen," Black pointed out.
"You can't control the paint and limit your opportunity to win games. Right now that's basically the reason why we're struggling, we're getting killed inside the paint almost every game. Until we can improve that we're gonna have problems in trying to win games."
Alas also has a basic gameplan. "We need to come out and start strong," he said.
"Containing (Baser) Amer, Chris) Newsome, (Reynel) Hugnatan, (KG) Canaleta and (Garvo) Lanete is essential," Alas also said. "Rebounding and lessening our errors is also very important." (NC)