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By Olmin Leyba
FOR second seed NLEX and No. 3 TnT, the time is ripe to cash in on the win-once quarterfinal incentives that they worked so hard to clinch back in the eliminations and advance.
The Road Warriors and the Tropang Giga target a quick entry into the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup semifinals as they open their post-elims campaigns on Wednesday against their lower-ranked but emotionally-driven opponents at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
NLEX’ challenger, No. 7 Alaska, is bent on extending the franchise’s farewell PBA outing to at least another game as TnT’s rival, No. 6 Barangay Ginebra, is intent on keeping its title defense going and avenging its Philippine Cup dethronement by the Tropang Giga in the previous quarters.
“Alaska would certainly like to go out in a blaze of glory. So it’s a big motivation to have coming into the game,” said NLEX coach Yeng Guiao, anticipating a tight contest as opposed to their 106-89 blowout in the elims.
“That means it’s going to be high intensity and they’re going to be very aggressive. So we’re going to have to carve out a win.”
Cameron Clark makes his NLEX debut in the 3 p.m. game, looking to pick up from where original import KJ McDaniels left off after a stellar elims run.
Aces counterpart Jeff Cariaso said facing a win-or-go-home situation, his charges are laser-focused on the immediate task.
“We know the task at hand is a harder path with a twice-to-beat disadvantage. But it’s not at all impossible,” he said. “Focusing on being ready and bringing our A-game is our priority.”
TnT mentor Chot Reyes, meanwhile, views the 6 p.m. matchup with Tim Cone and Ginebra as a dogfight.
“We’re playing the team with the resident Best Import (Justin Brownlee) so we have to be ready,” said Mr. Reyes. “It’s going to take much, much better defensive effort for us to be able to beat a team like Ginebra.”
Mr. Cone said the Gin Kings have made the most of the 10-day gap between their last game and this to get themselves in top playoff form.
“We know we have an uphill battle (against TnT) but the guys feel they are playing better of late and their confidence is high,” he said. “We’ll be ready.”