THE Magnolia Hotshots finished runners-up in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup. — PBA IMAGES

After third defeat for Magnolia Hotshots in the All-Filipino finals in the last four years

FELL short in their third stab at the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) All-Filipino title in the last four years, the Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots are staying the course of improvement towards success.

Bowed to the TnT Tropang Giga, 4-1, in their best-of-seven finals series in the just-concluded 2021 Philippine Cup, the Hotshots are disappointed but are not allowing it to stop them from achieving their goal of keeping their top-level standing in the league and winning championships.

The loss to TnT was the third time for Magnolia in the All-Filipino finals after defeats in 2018 and 2019, both at the hands of the San Miguel Beermen.

Against the Tropang Giga, Magnolia never really got its way, playing catch-up throughout, save for Game Three where it won, which proved to be telling in the end.

The Hotshots did try to compete though, and did not go down without a fight, but TnT just had all the answers en route to the championship.

And that is something that Magnolia coach Chito Victolero is holding on to amid the disappointment and looking to build on moving forward.

“Maybe it’s not our time yet. Hopefully, next time,” Mr. Victolero was quoted as saying by the official PBA website following the league’s “semi-bubble” in Bacolor, Pampanga.

“We’re up there among the top teams and have been competing but we just have to figure a way to go over the hump,” added the coach, who gave Magnolia the 2018 Governors’ Cup title.

The Hotshots were a force to be reckoned with in the Philippine Cup this season, consistently in the top half of the standings and a handful in the playoffs until they ran to the Tropang Giga.

They added a key piece in Calvin Abueva in the offseason, which immediately paid dividends as he was still the all-around player that he is on his way to winning the best player of the conference award.

Ian Sangalang had a resurgence in the bubble and underscored his status as one of the top big men in the league while guards Paul Lee, Mark Barroca and Jio Jalalon were steady presence on both ends of the court.

Magnolia, too, has auxiliaries which complement its core well.

But Mr. Victolero shared that some improvements may still be needed to achieve what they have set out to do.

“We’re still building our team and I’m proud of what we have been doing. We’ll keep on trying. The main goal is to win the championship,” he said.

Meanwhile, competing PBA teams are in the process of preparing for the next conference slated to start later this month.

Imports are being enlisted for the Reinforced Conference.

Justin Brownlee is reported to be back for the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings, looking to win a fifth title after helping the team to the Governors’ Cup championship in 2016, 2017 and 2019 and the Commissioner’s Cup in 2018.

He is set to be joined by returning imports Mike Harris (Magnolia), Paul Harris (Phoenix), Henry Walker (Rain or Shine), Brandon Brown (San Miguel), KJ McDaniels (NLEX), and Olu Ashaolu (Alaska).

New imports are Antonio Hester (Terrafirma), Jaylen Bond (Blackwater), Shabazz Muhammad (Meralco), Cameron Forte (Northport), and McKenzie Moore (TnT).

The PBA is looking to kick off the second conference this month in line with its push two have at least two tournaments this season as opposed to the lone conference held in 2020 because of the pandemic.

It is angling to have the action back in the National Capital Region after finishing the Philippine Cup in a semi-bubble in Bacolor.

The league is currently in talks with pertinent government agencies regarding the staging of the second conference. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo