BARANGAY Ginebra keeps its eyes on the top prize – or in this case, seeding - as it takes on an equally motivated Meralco in a familiar matchup in an import-loaded conference, this time in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Sunday night at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
The Gin Kings, wearing retro 1991 jerseys, gun for their eighth win in 10 games that will move them closer to securing one of the top two spots that come with a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals.
The Bolts, running fourth at 7-3, seek to get back on the winning track after back-to-back losses to also strengthen their chances of a top-two finish.
Tipoff is at 6:45 p.m. in a matchup preceded by an encounter featuring playoff-bound squads in the middle of the pack like Meralco in TNT KaTropa (7-3) and Rain or Shine (5-5) at 4:30 p.m.
The main event, though, promises to live up to its billing as all eyes will be on the two imports. Alex Stepheson should be eager to bounce back from a loss to Star where he contributed only nine points and nine boards for the Bolts, who are facing Justin Brownlee for the first time since that fateful Game Six of the 2016 Governors’ Cup Finals.
“The last time we played them with Justin was he made that winning shot in the championship, so there’s a lot of motivation,” Gin Kings coach Tim Cone said. “We expect them to have their A-game going.”
The Gin Kings recently had a problem limiting legitimate centers as they allowed Blackwater import Greg Smith to scatter 37 points and 19 boards, although Ginebra still came out with a 14-point victory.
“Now, we got Stepheson,” Cone said. “Stepheson’s just a monster on the boards and he’s coming off a tough game against Star, so we feel he’s going to come out strong against us.”
“But it’s also a big game for us; if we can win that, then we’re one game away from the No. 1 seed,” the champion coach was quick to add.
The Bolts were on the wrong end of a blowout last Wednesday, an 18-point beating at the hands of the Hotshots and Meralco coach Norman Black is simply hoping his wards respond to the challenge this time.
“Well obviously, we gotta play a lot better than what we played (against Star) if we wanna have a chance to beat Ginebra,” Black said. “They're playing on a high level right now, offensively and defensively, Brownlee has proven that he's a good fit for them.
"And let's just hope we can get Alex well, so that we can give a better performance,” he added, referring to the diarrhea-struck Stepheson.