IMPORT Michael Dunigan may be the backbone of Air21’s current campaign in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup, but veteran Mike Cortez remains the lifeblood of the Express.
The premier guard has now assumed a dual role with the team both as playmaker and scorer, a sensible move made by coach Franz Pumaren that produced outright results for the franchise.
The Express have won four games in a row, including an 87-82 upset of defending champion San Mig Coffee last week, to even their record at 5-5 for a share of fourth place and on target for a possible second straight playoff appearance.
Cortez actually played big in the Express’ back-to-back wins over the Mixers and Globalport Batang Pier for the period covering March 18 to 24, averaging 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 3.5 steals in 35 minutes of action to emerge as the most consistent local backing up the do-it-all Dunigan.
“Right now we are not only asking him to run the team but to score also,” related Pumaren of the 32-year-old Cortez, who was named the Accel-PBA Press Corps Player of the Week.
“That's why once in a while we are using him as a 2-guard.”
The former De La Salle star, the top overall pick of the 2003 rookie draft, readily accepted the role by coming through with 13 points, six rebounds, six assists, and three steals in backing up Dunigan’s 25-point, 20-rebound production in the win over the Mixers.
And in the course of a come-from-behind 87-72 victory over the Batang Pier over the weekend, Cortez tallied 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists to help prop Dunigan's 22 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists in leading the Express to their fourth straight win.
Those all-around games fashioned over tough opponents prompted the scribes to choose him over fellow playmaker LA Tenorio, who clipped 16.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists as Barangay Ginebra also notched two wins to stretch its own streak to four.