The latest chapter in the PBA's greatest rivalry -- the Manila Clasico -- will take place on June 19, and although it comes early in the 2022 Philippine Cup, there's never a bad time for Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia Hotshots to go at it.
Sunday will mark the 201st meeting between the two storied franchises, with the Hotshots enjoying a 105-95 lead in the head-to-head matchups after winning the last three meetings.
And as if Manila Clasico isn't a special enough occasion, this latest installment happens to fall on Rizal Day and Father's Day, and will be the first time in three years that a full house is expected.
Both sides have key players either nursing some nagging injuries or just returning from long layoffs. For Ginebra, Stanley Pringle is just getting his legs under him after sitting out several months due to a torn ACL. Japeth Aguilar also isn't quite back yet from the calf injury that caused him to miss significant time in the last Governors' Cup.
Gin Kings coach Tim Cone though thinks the bigger issue is his guys simply aren't in game shape yet, and it's shown despite their deceptive 2-0 start. Ginebra struggled past Blackwater Bossing in their first game, and had to hold off a late Rain or Shine Elasto Painters charge in their second.
"It's really an issue when you're not in shape," Cone said after the Blackwater win. "You can't do a lot of the things you need to do to win in basketball when you're not in shape.
"You can't sustain your energy, you can't sustain your defense, you're slow getting back on offense. You don't box out when you're tired. All those things happen when you're tired. And that's what's happened to us. We're just not anywhere near."
And while Aguilar and Pringle are back on the court together for the first time in months, both are still not at their optimal level.
"It's really nice to have (Japeth) back," Cone continued. "I don't think he's 100% either, especially in shape, but even injury-wise, I don't think he's there.
"Stanley, too. He has to just work on his strength and shape. He was really sucking for air in the fourth quarter, and you could see it. But he's our best alternative. Even when he's tired he's the best player out there."
Aguilar, who put up 23 points in 37 minutes against the Elasto Painters, revealed his calf continues to bug him.
"I just want to be extra careful," he said. "During the pre-season, I felt it was coming back, some nagging pain. So I requested for a check-up. Really, it's just management. We're not getting any younger. Really gotta be disciplined, make sure I'm healthy. I just gotta be ready for the coming game.
"It's actually something new to me. Before, after practice, I would go home, stretch, then ice. But now, really, it needs to be managed."
Given Aguilar's importance, it's understandable that the team is treating his delicate calf with all the care a mother would give a newborn baby.
"Our training staff, they know they gotta be extra careful with Japeth," Cone said. "They know they have to get him prepared especially in that particular area of his body. There's a lot of preparation that goes into that in terms of icing, massaging, stretching.
"Hopefully, the management that we do keeps him prepared every game. Obviously, if he starts feeling it then he's gonna have to limit his minutes. If he feels it really badly then he's gonna have to sit out a few games."
The Hotshots, who have stumbled out of the gates thanks to an unforgiving schedule, are even more banged-up as Mark Barroca, Paul Lee, Aris Dionisio, Rafi Reavis and Ian Sangalang are all nursing various injuries and ailments.
"Mark and Aris hadn't been practicing with us," Magnolia coach Chito Victolero revealed after his team finally broke into the win column Wednesday against NorthPort Batang Pier. "It's only recently that they joined our practice. Ian had to have an IV before the game."
Like Aguilar, Barroca is dealing with a calf strain and has been playing with his right calf heavily wrapped up, although it didn't stop him from dropping 25 points on San Miguel Beermen on Friday night. Of bigger concern for Victolero is the availability of Reavis (diarrhea) and Lee (back spasms) on Sunday.
"I hope Rafi can come back on Sunday so that we can have another big man because we will face another big team," said Victolero. As for Lee, he sat out the game against San Miguel, and is questionable for Manila Clasico.
"I'm not sure," Victolero answered when asked if Lee would be ready by Sunday. "We talked to the PTs, and we want him to be healthy. We don't want him to play today and be out tomorrow. We want a healthy Paul Lee.
"It's not a major injury, but we hope that our medical staff will do something about that. But of course, these are the games that Paul loves. Important games against elite teams."
Heading into Sunday, Ginebra has a 2-0 record, while Magnolia is at 1-3. Victolero lamented the fact that his team has to play three games in five nights, while Ginebra has four days off.
"What we need right now is rest and recovery. We have a hard schedule. I don't know what happened to the schedule, but we have back-to-back-to-back games.
"We're the only team with that kind of schedule. It's not an excuse, but we have a very, very bad schedule. We'll just try to dig deep. We have to find ways to win on Sunday."
Cone, though, is wary about facing a team that badly needs a win to turn its fortunes around.
"They need that extra win to keep on moving," he noted. "And we'd love to keep on going with what we're doing, keep the momentum going."
Although both teams are trending in opposite directions, Cone said this won't amount to anything come Sunday.
"I think I've said it in the past that the records don't matter when it comes to that kind of rivalry. It doesn't matter. One team can be 0-10 and the other team can be 10-0, and it still can be a great game because they're gonna lift the level of their game, and we're hopefully gonna lift the level of our game.
"When you play a rival that's a natural thing you do. I don't think records really matter at this point. I think you start 0-0 and go from there.
"It's Manila Clasico. It should be a real bang-up game. It's gonna be a fun one."