CROWD favorite Barangay Ginebra guns for the solo lead of the PLDT MyDSL-PBA Philippine Cup when it battles Meralco in the main game of a rare Tuesday doubleheader at the Mall of Asia Arena.
So far the Kings have been living up to their preseason hype as title contenders after opening the All-Filipino tournament with three straight wins.
But the unbeaten run hardly impresses coach Ato Agustin, especially after seeing the Kings blow a 21-point third-quarter lead against Globalport before star player Mark Caguioa came to the team’s rescue behind a torrid fourth quarter performance to salvage a 109-104 win.
“At least we learned our lesson in the (Globalport) game na kahit pa anong team, rookies man yan, it doesn’t mean kayang-kaya. Kasi lahat ng teams malalakas,” he said.
The Kings, one of the top rebounding teams this conference, are again expected to rely on their towering frontcourt in their 8 p.m. match against the Bolts.
Ginebra’s big men of Japeth Aguilar (18.3 ppg., 8.1 rpg., and 3.0 bpg) and rookie center Greg Slaughter (15.0 ppg., 12.3 rpg., and 2.3 bpg) have so far been an imposing presence inside for the league’s most popular ballclub.
Veteran slotman Jay-R Reyes is also serving as a big spark off the bench for the Kings, averaging 5.6 points and 9.3 rebounds.
All of these is not lost in the eyes of Ryan Gregorio, the Meralco coach, whose team is the decided underdogs against Ginebra owing to a shorter, injury-hit frontline.
In contrast, the Bolts are coming off a 112-79 shellacking of winless Air21 Express last week to grab their first win after opening the season with back-to-back losses.
“Ginebra is playing good basketball. They've been playing inspired, and they are using their strengths to the hilt,” noted Gregorio.
The Bolts will again miss the service of Fil-Am forward Cliff Hodge due to a sprained ankle. Despite his absence the last time, Meralco routed Air21, 112-79, last week for its first win in the season-opening tournament after suffering back-to-back losses to begin the season.
Former Ginebra stalwart Kerby Raymundo also remained in the injury list due to knee problems, and won’t be around when the Bolts face his former team for the first time in the conference.
“We must find ways to counter their imposing height and length advantage by making sure that we outwork and outhustle them,” Gregorio added.
Meralco’s chances of beating Ginebra hinges on its perimeter gunners, particularly two-time league scoring champion Gary David, John Wilson, and Jared Dillinger.
“It goes without saying that we must be accurate from the perimeter to spread the floor on offense. Their (Ginebra) bigs must step out of the paint. We can only do that with quick ball movement and outside sniping,” explained the Meralco coach.