4:30 p.m. -- NorthPort vs Blackwater
7 p.m. -- Meralco vs Phoenix
BLACKWATER and Phoenix, two teams seeking to finally hit paydirt after only a few years in the league, return to the firing line against struggling squads NorthPort and Meralco in the PBA Governors’ Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Elite seek a third straight win that would put them in a two-way tie for the top spot with defending champion Barangay Ginebra during their 4:30 p.m. tussle against the Batang Pier, while the Fuel Masters go for win No. 4 and solo fourth place in the 7 p.m. battle against the Bolts.
NorthPort, 0-4, and Meralco, 1-2, hope the long two-week break is enough time for their players to recharge and turn their fortunes around before it is too late.
The season-ending, import-flavored tournament took a long break to give way to the PBA Board of Governors’ meeting in Las Vegas and the FIBA World Cup 2019 qualifiers which ended with the Philippines’ come-from-behind 92-81 win over Qatar in a closed-door duel at the Big Dome last Monday.
Led by six-year NBA veteran Henry Walker, Blackwater defeated Talk N Text, 104-98, last Aug. 24 and San Miguel Beer, 193-100, last Sept. 5 in a pair of elite victories against the league’s heavyweights.
The 6-6 Walker more than held his own with double-doubles of 23 points and 14 rebounds against the Tropang Texters and import Stacy Davis and game-highs 35 points, 17 rebounds and seven steals against the Beermen and two-time Best Import winner AZ Reid.
But it was team character-- more than anything else -- that’s keeping the smiles on coach Bong Ramos’ face.
“Iyung bini-build naming character ng team, nagkakaroon na. Sana tuluy-tuloy na,” said Ramos in an interview with PBA.com.
“Yan ‘yung wala kami nung last conference,” added Ramos, whose Elite won only once in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
Blackwater, however, will have to do it again against a NorthPort team hoping to avoid a fifth straight setback.
Batang Pier coach Pido Jarencio hopes the return of Stanley Pringle will provide the missing link to the team’s unimpressive campaign.
Pringle produced 34 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals in his return to action after missing time due to his commitments with the Philippine team in the Asian Games in Jakarta, but the Batang Pier still dropped a 98-104 decision to Ginebra.
Still, the return of Pringle and Sean Anthony are enough to revive hopes for the Batang Pier.
In fact, no less than Ginebra coach Tim Cone was impressed with Pringle’s efforts.
“Boy, that Pringle is something else,” said Cone after the game.
“We came in trying to scheme him and we couldn’t get anything on our schemes. He was just too quick. When we try to contain him, he was hitting threes. And when we try to get on his shots, he blew by us and got layups against our bigs. And he even put our bigs in foul trouble. Man, he was incredible.”
The Phoenix-Meralco encounter is expected to be just as exciting.
The Louie Alas-mentored Fuel Masters are looking good with a 3-1 record that put them in the thick of the fight.
Much of the credit for the Fuel Masters’ resurgence is import Eugene Phelps, who is playing well enough,
Meralco, however, will have to work harder with Jared Dillinger and Ranidel de OCampo still out due to injuries.
“JD and Ranidel are still hurt so they will not play,” stressed Meralco coach Norman Black.
But Black remains hopeful.
“Transition defense and keeping Phoenix off the offensive boards will be keys to the game,” said Black.
Meralco, which is also set to represent the country in the FIBA Champion’s Cu later this month, opened its campaign with a 109-106 win over Columbian Dyip.