Full-steam Ahead: Magnolia’s Well-stocked Roster Aims for Playoff Success
Chito Victolero has been modest in his postgame interviews throughout Magnolia’s first six games in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup. But on Sunday night, shortly after taking down a perennial powerhouse and clinching a spot in the knockout stage, the Hotshots coach reached for a statement that was bolder than usual.
“We will not stop here. This is only the beginning,” he said after a 94-90 triumph over San Miguel Beer at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City. “We’re blessed that we’re [set for] the quarters, but the ultimate goal is to go all the way.”
Magnolia stretched its unbeaten run to seven games that night, throwing the full weight of its roster against a short-handed Beermen side that still managed to go down swinging even without cornerstone and reigning league Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo.
And that’s where Victolero draws the confidence from.
James Laput turned in his finest performance this tournament, scoring 14 points and seven rebounds, while Aris Dionisio added 10 more off the bench, including the freebies that sealed the win.
“It has been our goal during the off-season: We wanted to have a deep rotation,” Victolero said. “We’ve always had the same problem during the playoffs: Whenever Ian (Sangalang) gets injured, or Paul (Lee) or (Jio) Jalalon, or (Calvin) Abueva [is out], we struggle. Now we have a deep rotation and we trust our bench. They (supporting cast) have been delivering and that’s big for us and our confidence.”
More than the balanced effort, Victolero said that the experience of playing a team like San Miguel in a tight contest only makes Magnolia better.
“We need this kind of a game going into the latter part of the tournament because we all know that the playoffs will be like this,” he said.
That assessment was echoed by Laput, who is shaping up as a fitting reliever for Sangalang, who is still trying to regain his lethal form after a bout with hyperthyroidism.
“I feel like, especially this game being such a close one, this is the type of game we needed as a team to evolve more, level up more to prove ourselves,” he said. “This is the kind of game we’ll need [to prepare ourselves] going to the playoffs, without a doubt.”
Save for the Meralco Bolts, the remainder of Magnolia’s elimination round sked will be littered with teams touting a losing record.
But Victolero—hoping to stay true to his declaration—isn’t taking those teams for granted. He promises to deal with Rain or Shine, Terrafirma and Converge the way he took on the first half of the race.
“Rain or Shine has been playing well right now, so we’ll need to prepare for that out-of-town and guard against trying to relax. We want to respect our opponents—which is why we’ve been doing well right now,” he said. “We do not look at their records.”
While Magnolia navigates the tailend of the elimination round with caution, NLEX’s approach has desperation written all over it.
Citing the absence of ace playmaker Kevin Alas, who tore a knee ligament for a third-straight time, the Road Warriors (2-5, win-loss) will be anchoring its last-ditch effort for a playoff spot on spitfire guard Robert Bolick, following a three-team trade approved by the league on Monday morning.
NLEX tabbed the rights to Bolick, a former NorthPort standout who went to play in Japan, in a package that will send resurgent guard Don Trollano to San Miguel Beer.
The Batang Pier, who are running fifth with a 5-3 mark, received Ben Adamos, Kris Rosales, Allyn Bulanadi, Jeepy Faundo, and a pair of future second-round picks in the 2024 and 2025 Rookie Drafts, respectively—for a player who essentially wasn’t contributing to the squad anyway.
The Road Warriors also received Kent Salado in the deal. INQ