It seems like the Magnolia Chicken Timplados Hotshots are playing inspired basketball as of late.
At 4-0, the Hotshots could not have asked for a better start to their 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup campaign thanks not just to a high-volume offense, but also to an import like Nick Rakocevic, who pretty much embodies the spirit Magnolia has been known for in recent years. That and more have helped them avoid falling into an early conference hole as they have instead earned one of their best wins this season over the NLEX Road Warriors.
Rakocevic is not afraid of helping his team get the job done for the Hotshots by any means necessary. Aside from being the PBA leader in free throw attempts, Rackocevic is the PBA’s per game leader in offensive rebounding, providing the much needed relentless energy that has helped Magnolia power through the likes of the Terrafirma Dyip, Converge FiberXers, TNT Tropang Giga, and the Road Warriors. As such, a typical day in the office for the Serbian international has been a 20-20 game and the W.
It’s also not an uncommon sight to see Rakocevic on the floor after skying for a rebound and a put back or the former USC Trojan muscling his way to the basket for a layup even as he plays through a bone bruise in his right knee. Beyond the heart he has displayed for the Hotshots, it’s his smarts in knowing how to attack and what to do on a broken play that have been crucial to Magnolia’s stellar run thus far.
That Rakocevic is playing through an injury like that is certainly admirable, and the rest of the team has picked up on it by not letting up. In fact, even Hotshots head coach Chito Victolero hasn’t missed a beat despite needing surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon.
Thanks to Rakocevic’s presence, the floor has been more open for the rest of Magnolia, with the Hotshots leading the PBA in 3-point field goal attempts and free throw attempts, while being second overall in total field goal attempts. Leading the league in free throw percentage points is another good indicator of Magnolia’s early success, but the sheer number of attempts they have had largely helped them match their opponents’ production so far.
Defense is thus the area the Hotshots need to work on. It will, however, have to be a team effort given that Rakocevic is still on the mend and is still nonetheless taking on a heavy workload. The 24-year old is currently averaging a team-leading 40.3 minutes per game, nearly 10 minutes more than the next player in Mark Barroca (31.8 minutes per game).
Even before Rakocevic and the 2022-2023 Commissioner’s Cup, though, the injury bug has been an issue for Magnolia. Paul Lee’s well-documented shoulder issues have contributed to his struggles and both Ian Sangalang and Rome Dela Rosa are currently dealing with typhoid fever. Victolero’s recovery likely won’t keep him out of games, but managing Rakocevic’s minutes as he continues to work his way back to 100 percent will be something the Hotshots will have to navigate through as the conference progresses. As history has shown us, injuries can put an end to a team’s title dreams.
What works in Magnolia’s favor, at least for now, is the fact that after their October 16 matchup against the NorthPort Batang Pier, the Hotshots’ next three games will be at least five days apart. The long layoffs will not only help Magnolia’s players rest and recover, but it will also afford Victolero and the rest of the Hotshots coaching staff opportunities to further implement their system and introduce midseason adjustments that could help raise the chances of a long postseason run and their 15th PBA championship.
A perfect 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup for the Magnolia Chicken Timplados Hotshots is not impossible but highly unlikely. Regardless of how they finish the preliminary round of the conference, it seems they have found their winning formula for this round and it certainly bodes well for them and their championship aspirations.