THE chase for one of the top two spots continues for Petron Blaze as it parades new import Henry Sims against the Meralco Bolts in a crucial match up on Friday night in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Boosters (6-4), losers of their last two contests with previous import Rodney White, try to gain lost ground against the Bolts (5-5) in their 5:15 p.m. encounter.
One positive thing going for the Boosters is the return of Fil-Am shooter Chris Lutz, who is set to play against the Bolts after hurting his rib during his first game this conference against Globalport.
The 28-year-old Lutz is averaging 13 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season prior to his rib injury. He’s expected to split time with another Fil-Am gunner Marcio Lassiter, who has been on a tear offensively the last four games, averaging 17 points, three rebounds and two assists in 35 minutes.
But attention come game time will shift on Sims, who is coming off a stint with the Erie Bayhawks in the NBA D-League before flying in to Manila for his very first overseas stint.
Petron rookie coach Olsen Racela said he’s hopeful that the 6-foot-10 Sims could cope up with a lot of factors entering the important match up against Meralco, from jetlag to adjusting to his new playing environment.
“Naging malas lang kami sa (previous) import pero siya (Sims) yung hinahanap namin na import na puwedeng maglaro at flexible because he can play four or five for the team,” Racela said of his 23-year-old American recruit, the team’s third import this conference after the banned Renaldo Balkman and White.
San Miguel Corp. sports consultant Noli Eala said for a first overseas trip, Sims appears composed and relaxed, though the real test will happen when he collides head on with Meralco’s Eric Dawson.
“He’s long, athletic and I think he’s quick. He’s a combo, can play five and can play four, but what I like about him is for his first overseas stint, he looks composed and mentally prepared. So far, but we’ll see,” Eala said after watching Sims in his first practice with the Boosters on Thursday morning at the Acropolis gym.
For Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio, the game against Petron is just part of the team’s tough journey in trying to snare one of the top two spots in the playoffs.
“We’re ready because we worked during the long (Holy Week) break. Chris Ross will be 100 percent for tomorrow’s game while Eric Dawson also got the needed rest,” Gregorio said, whose team also faces Barangay Ginebra, San Mig Coffee and Meralco as their last three opponents in the elimination round.
“We know how critical the game will be against Petron that’s why we have prepared something against their big men because you know that we don’t have the size advantage,” he added.
Gregorio said he expects one-time PBA Finals MVP Macmac Cardona to be more assertive on offense to provide the much-needed scoring help for Dawson.
The former La Salle star guard is coming off a personal conference-high 30 points against Globalport last Holy Wednesday in helping the Bolts snare a 103-92 win. Prior to that game, he had been on a scoring slump, averaging just 2.5 points in the previous two games.
Other local support will have to come from gunners Sunday Salvacion and Ronjay Buenafe with Ross calling the shots on the backcourt.