Defending champion Rain or Shine’s opening stretch in the 2017 PBA Commissioner’s Cup looks easy as it seems, with the Elasto Painters taking on three squads which underperformed in the season-opening Philippine Cup in a span of nine days.
Former coach Yeng Guiao and his youthful NLEX side will have the first crack at Rain or Shine on Friday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum before Mahindra, led by returning import James White, gets its chance on Sunday and Blackwater, backstopped by NBA veteran Greg Smith, earns its opportunity next weekend.
But veteran big man Beau Belga knows the Elasto Painters should not treat any of them lightly since most of their rivals are coming in with ample reinforcements, starting with the Road Warriors who will parade former Rain or Shine import Wayne Chism.
“Lahat ng laro, we need to prepare hard and expect a tough game. Wala ng easy games sa PBA ngayon. Wala ng easy team ngayon. Lahat contenders na,” said the 6-foot-5 Belga in a recent interview with FOX Sports.
Although they have put one over Guiao in their first meeting in the all-Filipino tourney since they parted ways after five years highlighted by a pair of titles, the Elasto Painters still have no reason to have their guards down against the Road Warriors.
And its loss to NLEX in a tuneup match last week should be a timely reminder for Rain or Shine, said Belga.
“Iba ‘yung all-Filipino, iba Comm’s Cup. Nandun si Wayne at alam na niya ‘yung sistema ni coach Yeng. Advantage sa kanila ‘yun kasi sobrang pamilyar na si Wayne sa sistema ni coach. Kaya kailangan talaga namin paghandaan,” he said.
“And we need to have a good start kasi ‘yung mga makakalaban namin, same level lang namin. Hindi pa talaga ‘yung mga usual contenders. Ang masasabi mo lang talaga na sobrang lakas, ‘yung SMB (San Miguel Beer) and TNT. Sila totally ‘yung mga teams na paghahandaan mo nang husto. Dapat mas maging ready and paghandaan mo ng maayos.”
Still, Belga is confident that the Elasto Painters can duplicate their strong start in the previous conference and have a stronger finish this time in order to make a return trip to the semifinal round—the team’s modest goal—which they last achieved on the way to ruling the mid-season tournament last year.
“Personally, ayaw ko mag tatlong sunod na early exit. Ang hirap kasi…parang sanay ka sa semis. Tapos biglang susnud sunod ka na ma-out. Hindi ko ma-explain ‘yung feeling,” admitted Belga.
“Just to be in the semis. Lahat naman nandun, posible. Magma-matter lang kung sino mas healthy, mas may lakas pa. Pagdating dyan, magma-matter na ‘yung fatigue kasi patapos na ‘yung conference.”
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