Driven to do better and make up for a disastrous stint the last time out, Phoenix Pulse shoots for a third straight win in the PBA Philippine Cup to reclaim the early elimination round lead when the Fuel Masters square off with undermanned Columbian on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
After piecing together two straight wins in an impressive start, the Fuel Masters step on the fabled Big Dome floor in Cubao as the favorites over the Dyip in the 4:30 p.m. game even as winless sister teams NLEX and TNT KaTropa square off in the 7 p.m. game.
“They are very motivated to make up for what happened in [the last conference],” flu-stricken coach Louie Alas told the Inquirer over the phone after seeing his Fuel Masters work out. “We all learned our lessons.”
Phoenix held a twice-to-beat edge over Meralco in the quarterfinals of the Governors’ Cup last season, and the pain of that debacle, Alas said, is still in the hearts of his charges.
“Masakit,” he said. “We had our chances and we couldn’t capitalize on them.”
Phoenix’s victories came in heart-stopping, energy-sapping matches that needed extra periods. The Fuel Masters forged a 93-92 squeaker over Meralco before following it up with a 93-84 decision of the Texters.
“Two overtimes in two games,” said coach Louie Alas after the win over TNT.
“[M]ore than the win, [I’m happy] with the experience to play post games,” he added, saying it was a valuable experience for his team while noting that “Last [season], we would lose in such games.”
Gunslinger Matthew Wright is tossing in an average of 20.5 points in the first two games for Alas and with Columbian also without a dominant big man and likely to sit out prolific guard Jerramy King because of a leg injury, the Fuel Masters could no longer need another five minutes to wrap up a third straight win.
Wright agreed with his coach that the tight matches will help Phoenix as it searches for a breakthrough performance this conference, saying “we’re becoming more experienced, and we’re becoming more of a veteran team.”
Phoenix also doesn’t have a dominant big man, but is loaded in the other positions with Calvin Abueva its do-it-all bruiser and Alex Mallari enjoying a rejuvenation of sorts after being acquired from NLEX.
Mallari scored 11 points in each of the first two games for Alas and has surely earned his spot in the rotation even as Jason Perkins gives the Fuel Masters that extra muscle inside which makes him and Abueva quite the combination in the paint.
An interesting sidelight in this game, though, is the first face-off between Abueva and Columbian rookie CJ Perez, whom the Dyip tabbed as the first overall choice in the last Draft.
Perez, described by scouts as an Abueva clone, scored 26 points in his debut, helping the Dyip to a 124-118 upset of four-time defending champion San Miguel Beer last week.
The former Lyceum standout in the NCAA is being ballyhooed as the savior of the Dyip, who are coming off yet another forgettable season.
The Road Warriors and the Texters, meanwhile, are languishing at the bottom of the standings early after two straight defeats each.
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