COACH Norman Black hopes Meralco would play with a greater sense of urgency when the Bolts begin their PBA Commissioner’s Cup best-of-three quarterfinal series against NLEX on Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The team has been on a slump since import Josh Davis suffered an injury scare in the team’s 102-86 loss to San Miguel Beer more than a month ago in Cagayan de Oro City. Although Davis has returned to action, the Bolts have struggled and lost five of their last six games.
Fortunately, Meralco’s fine form earlier in the conference earned them enough wins to cushion the collapse and the Bolts still wound up as the playoffs fifth seeds.
“If we are to break out of our slump, this is the best time to do it because there’s a semis berth on the line,” said Black on the eve of the Bolts’ 4:15 p.m. match against the Road Warriors.
NLEX has been playing great, compiling a franchise-best five straight wins to earn a spot in the top five, although it dropped a 91-85 decision to Barako Bull on Tuesday in a no-bearing game.
Black noted the presence of NLEX’s agless slotman Asi Taulava and the consistent outside sniping of import Al Thornton as Meralco’s biggest defensive challenges in the race-to-two-wins quarterfinal series.
“NLEX will be a tough hurdle. They have the size with Asi and they have an explosive import in Thornton. They surround those guys with shooters so they are a well-balanced team,” added Black, whose team closed out its single-round eliminations campaign with an 84-72 loss to expansion Blackwater.
On the other hand, NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez said they now intend to surpass their initial goal of making the quarterfinals.
“Ang unang-una naming goal is make it to the top eight, which we achieved with five straight wins, pero sabi ko nga sa mga players, okay na tayo pumasok sa quarterfinals, pero bakit di pa natin i-achieve yung gusto nating i-achieve? Eh kaya naman natin,” he said.
Thornton remains as the Road Warriors’ main offensive weapon with his per-game average of 31.4 points. The former Los Angeles Clipper forward averages 12.7 rebounds and owns a 32.8 percent-shooting accuracy from the three-point zone.
“The playoffs will separate the boys from the men. I told my players, if you stay as boys, we will just waste our hopes for a shot at the semis,” he added.