Joe Devance makes return as Ginebra renews rivalry with Meralco at Philippine Arena
Joe Devance has missed the first nine games of the season for Ginebra but is set to return vs Meralco. Jerome Ascano

BARANGAY Ginebra’s frontline gets shored up, while Meralco’s remains shorthanded as both teams renew their brewing rivalry on Sunday night at the same state-of-the-art venue they last met, but this time in the PBA Philippine Cup.

Joe Devance is set to make his return after missing the first nine games of the season to recover from a long-delayed foot surgery in the offseason as the Gin Kings face a Bolts side that’s still missing Ranidel de Ocampo and Jared Dillinger, and could also be without Cliff Hodge.

Both teams battle in a rematch of the last Governors’ Cup Finals at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan, where they squared off in the last three games of the best-of-seven series, the last game seeing the Gin Kings prevail, 101-96, to defend their championship last October.

But they won’t have the benefit of their super imports in Justin Brownlee for the Gin Kings and the Bolts’ Allen Durham.

At least the Gin Kings have a returning local player as assistant coach Richard del Rosario confirmed that Devance will play after being reactivated in lieu of John Wilson, while it remains to be seen if Hodge can suit up after hurting his knee in their 92-90 win over Phoenix on Valentine’s Day.

The Gin Kings are coming off back-to-back blowout victories, the latest a 93-78 rout of TNT KaTropa last Sunday, to erase the stigma of losing four of their last five games following a 2-0 start.

The Bolts, on the other hand, are fighting for dear life with a 3-6 win-loss card, and are looking to follow up their win against the Fuel Masters that kept their flickering postseason hopes alive.

“No doubt, it’s been a struggle for both teams since meeting in the finals, but we’re both playing better of late,” Gin Kings coach Tim Cone said on the eve of their rematch that tips off at 6:45 p.m.

Without a standout big man, the Bolts rely on another perimeter-oriented attack led by Chris Newsome and Baser Amer.  

“They will look to put five shooters on the floor so our bigs will have to extend out away from the basket,” Cone said. “We’ll have to find ways to cover all of them.”

NLEX, tied with Ginebra at 5-4, also seeks to book its ticket to the playoffs as it takes on Blackwater (4-5) in the curtain-raiser at 4:30 p.m.


Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos