MERALCO seeks to secure its hold on the top spot in the elimination round as it takes on Alaska in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Friday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The playoffs-bound Bolts are enjoying the view from the top with seven wins in nine outings, and a victory against the Aces in the 7 p.m. encounter will help them one of the top two seeds that comes with a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals.
The Bolts also had the same chance in the last midseason tournament, winning their first five games, but managed to add just one more win in their last six outings. Ending up fifth last year, they settled for a best-to-three series in the quarterfinals, although they still reached the Final Four.
This conference, the Bolts also won their first five outings before suffering back-to-back losses. However, Meralco has since recovered to post two straight wins and surpassed their win total in the last Commissioner’s Cup, inching closer to clinch the twice-to-beat edge.
Bolts coach Norman Black, though, refused to compare his current squad, led by back-to-the-basket big man Arinze Onuaku, to his team in the last midseason conference, bannered by Josh Davis, an undersized slotman who thrives by attacking from the weak side and getting offensive boards.
“This is a completely different team,” Black said. “We have a different type of import. I haven’t really thought about making them learn lessons from last year. I’m just really focused on what’s happening right now and our situation.”
“What I’ve been really preaching to them is that you never know when you can put together a very competitive team,” he added. “You never know when you’re going to get a quality import like we have right now in Arinze, who’s not just talented, but has a very good attitude and gets along well with his teammates.”
The 6-foot-9 Onuaku looks to pounce on an Aces side that’s sticking with stand-in import Shane Edwards, who’s hardworking, yet lacks heft to bang bodies with bigger counterparts.
The Aces, running second with a 6-3 win-loss record, are leaving the dirty work to workhorses Calvin Abueva and Vic Manuel as they likewise seek to move closer to claiming a twice-to-beat bonus in the first round of the playoffs.
Phoenix, outside the magic circle of 8 with a 3-6 slate, tries to keep its postseason bid alive as it faces eliminated GlobalPort in the curtain-raiser at 4:15 p.m.