Jun 13, 2019

Pumped-up Elite undergo SMB test

MOTIVATION is something Blackwater and San Miguel Beer would not be lacking in when they tangle Friday in the PBA Commissioner's Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The Elite are gunning for a third straight win and sixth in seven games overall that would break them out of their current leadership tie with NorthPort and TNT.

For their part, the Beermen are bristling to crash the win-column after dropping their first two games in the mid-season conference.

It marked the second straight year that SMB started the Commissioner's Cup with two straight losses. The Beermen actually went 0-3 in the same conference last season, but still made it to the finals and settled for a runner-up finish against eventual champion Barangay Ginebra.

That doesn't mean SMB is pinning its collective hopes on coming up with the same turnaround this time, however.

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"Start pa lang naman ng conference and there are enough games left para maka-recover," said Beermen coach Leo Austria.

"Pero if we're going to make our move, the sooner the better dahil napakahirap maghabol, lalo na sa conference na ito na maraming nagpalakas at lahat ng imports magagaling," added Austria.

Blackwater also have recent memories, but those are of a good start turned very bad.

"We started 4-0 (in the 2018 Governors' Cup), but somehow that time medyo nag-let up mga players. Medyo nawala sa focus, medyo nag-celebrate at medyo nagkaroon ng konting complacency," recalled Elite coach Aris Dimaunahan, referring to the way the team he was acting as assistant coach to faded after stretching its record to a franchise-best 6-1.

The Elite lost their last four outings and also the chance of bagging a twice-to-beat incentive in the quarterfinals, where they bowed to eventual champion Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok.

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That is one lesson bitterly learned by the Elite, according to forward Allein Maliksi. "We just need to focus and play together as a team," he said.

Indeed, all of the Elite should, considering what lies ahead.

Friday's game is just the start of a grueling stretch which will also see them take on NorthPort eight days later. Then next up are the Magnolia Hotshots on July 5, followed by the Terrence Jones-powered TNT KaTropa on July 7, and the Alaska Aces will be their final assignment in the eliminations on July 14.

There is one basic mind-set Blackwater must arm itself with.

"Trust coach Aris' system, trust each other," said Maliksi.

"Lahat naman sobrang focused ngayon, na whatever they can contribute and can do to help the team win, ginagawa ng bawat isa." (NC)