By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

HAVING seized the lead in their PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven semifinal series in their last game, the Magnolia Hotshots look to turn to their collective experience in big games to sustain them against the NLEX Road Warriors.

Now up, 2-0, in their semifinals after winning Game Three, 106-99, on Wednesday night, the Hotshots now eye to create further distance with the Road Warriors in their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) semifinal joust when Game Four rolls out today at 7 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena.

In so doing, Magnolia hopes to tap on its “slight” advantage in experience in tight playoff matches to take on what it expects to be a continued tough challenge from NLEX.

“[Thanks to our] experience before, in particular last season, I think we have a better chance in a close series. I think we have a slight advantage in that aspect. Add to this the fact that players like Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Ian Sangalang and Rafi Reavis know how to win big games,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero after their win in Game Three.

“In this kind of series you have to have the mental toughness needed. You have only one day of preparation in between games. If you have the mental toughness to go along with the physical aspects you have a better chance,” he added.

In Game Three, where the Hotshots managed to create some distance in the payoff canto after enduring a tight first three quarters, Jio Jalalon and Mr. Sangalang led the way.

Sophomore Jalalon exploded for 25 points to go along with five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Mr. Sangalang, having to do more with the season-ending knee injury on veteran Marc Pingris, finished with 24 points and seven rebounds.

Rome Dela Rosa had 17 markers while Mr. Lee finished with 14 points and six assists.

NLEX, meanwhile, was led by Kiefer Ravena with 20 points with Kevin Alas and JR Quiñahan adding 15 and 13 points, respectively.

But while they are now with the upper hand, Mr. Victolero said the series is far from over and that they still have to continue working.

“We need four wins to get into the finals, so we still need to work,” said Mr. Victolero.

Apart from Mr. Pingris, who tore his ACL in the series opener last Saturday, also absent for Magnolia is guard Justin Melton due to a hamstring injury.

Mr. Victolero said they are still not sure if Mr. Melton will be ready for Game Four today but they would like to have him to back the soonest to help their cause.

Winner of this series faces the victor of the other semifinal face-off between defending champions San Miguel Beermen and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings. The Beermen held a 2-1 series lead entering last night’s Game Four at the Mall of Asia Arena.