Moral victories are great, but we need actual wins to advance to the next round of the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Three hard-fought games in Seville have proven to everyone that Philippine hoops belongs in the world stage. While our other Asian counterparts Iran and Korea are getting blown out in their respective groups, we've scared the shit out of everyone who's faced us. World #16 Croatia needed overtime to squeak past us. World #5 Greece had their balls hit hard. World #3 Argentina posed for a couple of posters before escaping with a win.
However, the fact remains that, for all the excitement Gilas Pilipinas has provided, we have zero wins to show for. With only four teams advancing to the next round and only two games remaining, our chances aren't looking quite well. Still, as we enter our game against fellow winless squad Puerto Rico tonight (at 7:30 p. m.), nasa kamay pa rin natin ang ating kapalaran.
Right, Coach Chot?
Image via FIBA.com
While American continental basketball is usually dominated by the USA, Puerto Rico is considered to be one of the top teams in the region. They were one of the favorites to come out of the competitive Group B after having finished second in the last FIBA Americas. But key injuries and bad breaks have left them winless in three games and in danger of an early exit. With a similar win-loss record (or in this case, "puro loss" record) and a not-so-intimidating height difference, Puerto Rico looks like the perfect match for Gilas.
But of course, as the saying goes, a wounded tiger is much more dangerous than a well-fed pussycat. With Puerto Rico also on the brink, they'll want to prove they're better than their record and advance to the next stage. And then there's also Renaldo Balkman, who has said that he won't take our face-off personal, but we bet is aching to prove to Pinoy ballers that banning him was a big, big mistake.
We once again wear our feelingerong basketball expert caps on and talk about what to expect, the important matchups, and the keys to finally winning one on the world stage, as well as the scenarios that should happen for us to advance to round two. Read on!
PUERTO RICO IN A GLIMPSE
Image via FIBA.com
Carlos Arroyo may not have had such a stellar career in the NBA, but when he's wearing their national uniform, he becomes an entirely different monster. He'll slice and dice through the lanes, stop and pop from just about anywhere, and while you're mesmerized by his ball handling, he'll zip a pass up to his teammates. Even Team USA knows what he can do! Unfortunately, all those nifty moves won't be part of the Puerto Rico arsenal, as he's likely done for the tournament following an injury in their loss to Senegal.
Arroyo's loss is a huge blow for the Puerto Ricans, who are already missing swingman Angel Vassallo to injury. As a result, Minnesota Timberwolves backup Jose Juan Barea and Balkman are tasked to carry the load for their team. They have essentially been a two-man crew, with Barea (29.7 mpg) and Balkman (32.0 mpg) the only two players on the team averaging significant minutes per game.
Image via FIBA.com
After losing two stars, Coach Paco Olmos hasn't found yet a good replacement from his remaining stalwarts. Ricky Sanchez (20.3 mpg) has come closest to playing the most minutes, but doesn't have much to show for it. Their young big man, Bryan Diaz, is doing his best Japeth Aguilar impersonation by virtually being a no-show so far in the tournament.
They do have some bright spots though. Carlos Rivera (7.0 ppg, 2.3 apg, 4/6 three-pointers in three games) has somewhat stepped up in the absence of Arroyo, and will be a possible third scoring option for the Puerto Ricans. Despite the struggles of veteran center Daniel Santiago, his 7'0" frame could pose a problem for our vertically-challenged boys. Forward Ramon Clemente (3.3 ppg 3.7 rpg) has been sneaky good off the bench, especially on the boards.
Like us, Puerto Rico will likely go all-out for one final push to move on to the next round. Unlike us, they virtually have one foot out the door after having lost to Argentina and Senegal, and with powerhouse Croatia waiting for them in their final game.