THE Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan -- yes, that colossal arena that has a seating capacity of 55,000 -- is memorable both to Blackwater and Mahindra.
It is in that venue that the Elite got their first taste of defeat in the PBA after they were beaten by Kia (now Mahindra) in a game featuring expansion teams debuting in the pro-league during the 2014 season.
A total of 52,612 fans trooped to the Arena and witnessed the historic double-header featuring the two expansion teams, as well as crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra and Talk ‘N Text.
The date was October 19, 2014 which also marked the opening of the PBA’s 40th season.
The Gin Kings, then still being handled by coach Jeff Cariaso, sent thousands of fans wearing smiles after they whipped the Tropang Texters, 101-81.
Now, more than two years later, three of those teams that played during that 2014 PBA opening -- Gin Kings, Elite and the now Mahindra Flood Busters -- return today at the same venue, this time to figure in Christmas Day treat for the fans.
Many things had happened since then for the Elite, Floodbusters, as well as to the Gin Kings.
The Elite are going back to the venue, carrying a win-loss slate that is in utterly sharp contrast to the Mahindra’s record.
The Elite will gun for their fifth victory in seven outings and the solo second place when they set out in the 3 p.m. encounter with the Floodbusters, who are still winless in five outings in the PBA Philippine Cup.
With 12 teams in the fold and considering eight will advance to the playoff round, five wins would be good enough for at least a tie for a quarterfinals berth, according to PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon III.
That’s why, clinching five wins is something else for a team, in this case, the Balckwater.
“We want to prepare ourselves against Mahindra on Sunday. Paghihirapan namin ito para makuha namin gusto naming marating this conference,” said Blackwater coach Leo Isaac minutes after the Elite’s 99-91 upset of Globalport last Dec. 21.
“We wanted this victory, we want to give ourselves a chance to experience being No. 2.”
The Gin Kings, who won the season-ending Governors’ Cup, have been hot and cold in the kick-off conference, winning only two of their five outings. They lost in their last outing last Dec. 18 to the Alaska Aces, 101-86.
Record-wise, the Gin Kings have lost only once in their nine appearances on Christmas Day, but Tim Cone as a coach has a record of 2-4 on Christmas.
But the biggest concern hounding Cone are the manifold distractions associated with the holidays.
“Christmas Day games are always difficult to play because of all the distractions that go on, but there is a lot of honor playing the game as well,” said Cone.
“We’re blessed to have this opportunity. Add to the fact that it’s the Manila Classico and being held at the Philippine Arena, it makes this year’s edition especially exciting,” added Cone.
“It will be great to reward our fans with our best effort and finish the year with a win,” stressed the league’s most bemedalled bench tactician.
Hotshots coach Chito Victolero shared Cone’s concern, saying it is very hard to get the players to focus on the task at hand owing to the many distractions.
“We’re ready and our players are responding naman, maganda preparation, motivated naman sila, maganda ang game na ‘to para sa mga fans, hopefully manalo. We’re positive. Sana makuha namin to,” said Victolero in phone conversation with People’s Journal/Tonight minutes after the team’s light workout yesterday.
“Champion team yan, alam naman natin na paghahandaan din nila yan, plus yung fans, tapos maraming distractions, marami din manonood, so sabi ko sa kanila na we need that mental toughness,” added Victolero.
The Hotshots are in a tie with Globaloort for the 5th and 6th spot at 3-2. They are coming into the game carrying the momentum of 99-91 conquest of Rain or Shine last Dec. 18.