WITH the euphoria of the just-concluded Philippine Cup championship duel still pervading the air, four teams seeking redemption readily plunge into action today at the start of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Meralco takes on Blackwater in the 4:30 p.m. opening tussle while Alaska collides with Columbian Dyip in the main game at 6:45 p.m. in a doubleheader that promises intense action right away in the midseason conference where everybody is looking for revenge.
Incidentally, three of the four teams playing today were eliminated in the first conference which was won only last Wednesday by San Miguel Beer after beating Magnolia in Game 7, 72-71.
The Elite, the Bolts and the Dyip all failed to make the playoff round last conference. The Aces finished number 8 to make the quarterfinals but were readily ousted by number 1 team Phoenix.
Columbian showed some semblance of fight early in the elimination but managed to win just four of its 11 outings as competition in the prestigious conference went tighter as it progressed. The Bolts finished 11th on 3-8 slate with the Elite left stranded at the bottom at 12th with 2-9 record.
With the employment of imports, wind of change can be expected on most of the teams this conference, more so for the Bolts and the Aces.
The Bolts will be parading Gani Lawal, a member of the Nigerian national team that played in the 2013 FIBA Africa Championship who had also won titles in Italy in 2014 and in Greece in 2015.
The 30-year-old Lawal is entering the PBA in good shape as he is still fresh from a stint in the Japanese B. League where he played for the Shiga Lakestars. He averaged 21.0 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 blocks per game for the Lakestars.
However, the Bolts will miss new acquisition Raymond Almazan today – and probably in the next three weeks – as the former Rain or Shine stalwart is still recovering from a calf injury.
“(Raymond) Almazan will not play because of his past calf injury,” said Meralco coach Norman Black. “He will return to action in the PBA in two to three weeks.”
Even without Almazan, whom the Bolts acquired in a trade with Rain or Shine, Black has remained optimistic about their chances this early in the elimination, saying the ‘Bolts had a very good off-season and the guys have been working hard.’
“Still we are ready to go and looking forward to our first game versus Blackwater,” added Black.
A die-hard PBA fan named Daniel Aguila of Fairview was surprised to learn that the pros will mix it up again.
”Trabaho na naman sila. Jingle lang ang pahinga,” Aguila said, saying that this is possibly the first time in the long, rich history of the league that a conference opens less than a week after a conference had ended.
The Elite are counting on 6-foot-10 Alex Stepheson, who, incidentally, played too for Meralco Bolts during the same conference in 2017.
Like the Bolts, the Aces are just as optimistic as they seem to be, and Alaska coach Alex Compton said the team is healthy and that no player among his roster has any serious injury.
“We have really focused on getting healthy and getting our bodies back in shape,” said Compton. “Our import, Chris Daniels, is a veteran big man, a team player, a leader and a winner.”
“We are looking forward to having a much-better conference this time around,” added Compton.
They are up against the Dyip who will parade former ASEAN Basketball League import Kyle Barone, whose inside scoring and excellent rebounding would make them a team that cannot be taken for granted.