Alaska eyes first back-to-back wins of season but face tough match against league-leading Meralco
Coach Alex Compton and the injury-riddled Aces have won just three of nine games but are still confident they can make the playoffs. Jerome Ascano

TWO places out of the quarterfinal seats with three games remaining, Alaska remains confident it can climb back into the playoff picture.

The first of the Aces’ three tough hurdles begin with league-leader Meralco on Tuesday in a crucial PBA Commissioner’s Cup match at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

“Hopefully, we’re starting to turn the corner, but the point of an 11-game conference is we don’t have room for mistakes. So now, it’s do or die,” Compton said.

The Aces (3-5) and Bolts (6-2) clash at 7 p.m.

Runners-up in the Philippine Cup, the Aces have found themselves struggling in the import-laced conference and only snapped a three-game losing streak last week at the expense of expansion squad Blackwater Elite, 82-68.

Athletic import Damion James registered a 20-20 output after delivering 29 points and 22 rebounds in his first win with the Aces since being tapped to replace DJ Covington.

Alaska will continue to miss starting playmaker JV Casio, who is still out with a broken nose.

The short conference may pose a serious challenge for all the teams, but Compton said the setup has forced coaches to emphasize the importance of each possession.

“I wasn’t a proponent at first of the three-conference format that has short games, but every game has weight,” said Compton.

“And as a coach, you may pay the price with that, but each possession has weight, and each quarter has weight,” he added.

Against Meralco, Alaska’s biggest concern is how to contain energetic import Josh Davis, who has regained his old, deadly form since suffering a lower back injury last month.

The 6-foot-7 Davis registered 32 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and added two blocks to lead Meralco past Barako Bull, 98-85 last week.

Meanwhile, Meralco coach Norman Black said limiting James’ productivity is the Bolts’ main concern, along with keeping the Aces’ big men from dominating the paint as they battle for a top two finish and a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals.

“It’s a big game for both teams. They (Aces) are trying to stay above and we are trying to stay on track for the twice-to-beat advantage,” said Black.

“Defense will be important for us as we limit an explosion from James while also keeping their bigs off the offensive boards,” he added.

Meralco enters the match half-a-game ahead of sister team Talk ’N Text, defending champion Purefoods Star and Rain or Shine. The three squads hold 6-3 records.


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