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    COLUMN: A Magnolia-Meralco finals would be fun to watch

    Feb 15, 2022
    PHOTO: PBA Images
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    CHICAGO - Led by a dazzling import in Tony Bishop and armed with a stifling team defense that can guard a Russian invasion, the Meralco Bolts are on top of the PBA Governor's Cup standings.

    Unshaken, unbeaten at 4-0.

    To paraphrase rapper MC Hammer, you can't touch these Bolts.

    Despite their lofty position, though, the Bolts aren't harboring any championship thoughts just yet, a hesitance that is born out of caution, not from a lack of confidence.

    "It's too early and there's a long way to go," Bolts head coach Norman Black told me in a telephone interview on Tuesday night.

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      Like joy and grief, there are stages to go through a conference, especially this one, a challenging version where Covid-19 has influenced an unwelcome tournament stoppage.

      And for Meralco, as explained to me by the multi-titled tactician, that path looks like this.

      Finish in the Top Four. Secure that twice-to-beat advantage. And then take care of business in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

      Continue reading below ↓

      ONCE THOSE BOXES ARE CHECKED, SOME CHIP TALK CAN BEGIN IN EARNEST.

      While he was quick to deflect praise for how his coaching has melded the parts and pieces of his roster into one destructive force, coach Norman insists that the current success is all because of his players.

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      "They're really locked in," he said.

      Yup, these Bolts are, for a lack of a better pun, electrifying.

      Putting together 98 points per game, they shoot 45 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3. They also collect 49.5 rebounds, 24.2 assists, 6.5 steals and 4.0 blocks an outing, per the official league website.

      And with speedy and cerebral point guard Aaron Black pushing the ball like a dealer, the Bolts lead the PBA in fastbreak points with 15.5 per.

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        As the road gets tougher moving forward, I asked coach Black which teams will make a run for Meralco's money.

        Continue reading below ↓

        Because of the Gin Kings' history of neutralizing the Bolts in past playoff encounters, "Ginebra" quickly rolled out of Black's tongue.

        To many teams, Ginebra represents that scary Chucky doll that might leap out of your closet in the dead of the night, but after Meralco beat Tim Cone and Co. last Sunday, 101-95, the perennial threat doesn't seem so imminent at this time.

        CO-LEADER MAGNOLIA, ALSO UNSCATHED AT 4-0, IS ANOTHER STORY.

        "They are really good. Well-coached, their defense is great," Norman pointed out.

        And their low turnover rate of 8.5 a game "is unheard of."

        No surprise there. Hotshots coach Chito Victolero is one of the brilliant minds in the PBA, minus the fat paycheck and the selective media hype. Stopping people and protecting the ball are the hallmarks of a Victolero-led squad.

        And having Mike Harris for an import adds nuclear to Magnolia's bomb.

        "He is amazing at 38 years old," Black noted of Harris, who is burning the competition with an average of 31.5 points per game while hitting 56 percent of his shots.

        Continue reading below ↓

        Merlaco's Bishop ain't too shabby, either, averaging also 31.5 points while connecting - eat this! - a crazy 62 percent from 3.

        I'd love to watch Meralco and Magnolia in the finals.

        It's a pleasant departure from the humdrum of TNT, San Miguel and Ginebra always contesting the title.

        And in this one, for sure, the main coaching characters are a lot more likable and lovable.

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