Magnolia Pambansang Manok and Alaska Milk both emerge from a long break expected to have done their homework and be ready for a battle of attrition right in the opener of their PBA Governors Cup best-of-seven title showdown at the MOA Arena Wednesday.
The Aces return from a 17-day rest while the Hotshots from a day longer.
Without a player lent to the Gilas team in the fifth and penultimate window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers, the two teams have had their buildups free from any distractions.
Thus, both are well-rested, well-prepared and well-motivated as they start their championship series at 7 p.m.
"Walang pinagbago, tablang-tabla pa rin ang dalawang teams. Ang kinaibahan lang siguro eh parehong fresh ang dalawa, kaya baka mas mataas ang level ng labanan sa series na ito," said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero.
"For us, talagang nakatulong ito. In the past week, nakabalik na sina Romeo Travis, Paul Lee at Ian Sangalang," Victolero also said.
Romeo, Lee and Sangalang had had slight injuries at the end of their semifinal conquest of Barangay Ginebra.
"(Wednesday) is the start of what I believe will be a tough and exciting finals series," said Alaska coach Alex Compton. "Magnolia has been playing the best basketball in the PBA all conference. The way they have defended and moved the basketball lets me know that we better play the best we have played as a team if we want to win this championship."
Vic Manuel and Chris Banchero may have also healed their own slight injuries, making it a much more anticipated series.
Alaska Milk and Magnolia clash in what many feel as a matchup to watch for many good reasons, most especially its similar exciting brand of defensive-oriented, fast-paced hardnosed play.
There's no single dominant player on both sides, except probably Alaska import Mike Harris.
What both teams are touted for is their relentless pressing defense and sleek running game anchored by their pesky guard rotations.
It could well be a grind-out battle in each game that could lead to a war of attrition that ends a few days before Christmas.
Either of the two coaches is to emerge a first time PBA champion coach.
Compton lost all four previous title playoffs while Victolero dropped his first crack at a PBA title against San Miguel Beer in the last Philippine Cup.
These two teams figured in seven previous titular series but not in the last eight years.
Alaska's Sonny Thoss and Magnolia's PJ Simon are the remaining players from the last time the two teams clashed in the finals in the 2010 Philippine Cup. Coach Ryan Gregorio steered Purefoods to a 4-0 sweep of the Tim Cone-mentored Alaska team then.
"Back then, we're running the triangle offense. It's a slow game. We're playing a lot faster game now," Thoss recalled.
Manuel, Banchero, Jeron Teng and Simon Enciso lead the new Alaska cast that aches to win a first PBA crown and level at 4-4 the championship matchup record between Alaska and Magnolia.
The Aces shoot for a 15th crown in all while the Hotshots aim for No. 14.(SB)