MANILA, Philippines – As modest as Gilas Pilipinas’ goal of a top-eight finish in the FIBA Asia Cup may be, it is harder than it seems.
The Philippines needs luck and precision to accomplish that feat as the result of its last group stage game against New Zealand on Sunday, July 17, will have a hand in how far it will progress in the tournament.
Virtually qualified for the knockout round with identical 1-1 records, the Filipinos and the Tall Blacks vie for the second seed in Group D, which offers a relatively easier route to the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, Lebanon (2-0) is expected to clinch the outright quarterfinal berth in Group D as it wraps up the group stage against winless India (0-2).
A loss to New Zealand will see the Philippines fall to 1-2 and finish third place, setting up a challenging playoff crossover against the second seed from Group C, which will either be Iran or Japan.
Japan and Iran are both unbeaten at 2-0 going into their clash on Sunday.
Reinforced by NBA player Yuta Watanabe, the Akatsuki Five boast a winning margin of 46.5 points and average a whopping 19.5 three-pointers a game.
The Iranians also pose a huge problem, with familiar foes Hamed Haddadi, Behnam Yakhchali, and Mohammad Jamshidi leading the way.
But even if Gilas Pilipinas overcomes either Iran or Japan, defending champion Australia stands by in the quarterfinals after dominating Group A with a 3-0 slate.
On the other hand, a win over the Kiwis will propel the Filipinos to a playoff duel against either Kazakhstan or Syria, which will dispute the third seed in Group C.
That path has Korea – which topped Group B with a 3-0 card – waiting in the quarterfinals.
Although it suffered back-to-back losses in their friendly games in June, Gilas Pilipinas beat Korea twice in the Asia Cup Qualifiers last year.
Handed a pair of embarrassing losses by New Zealand in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers this year, now is the perfect time for the Philippines to redeem itself as it looks to avoid an early exit.
Game time is 9 pm. – Rappler.com