Texters go all-Filipino versus Elite; Hotshots battle Bolts
An All-Filipino TNT crew opens defense of its PBA Commissioner’s Cup title opposite Blackwater at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao Wednesday with its returning temperamental import cooling his heels in the sidelines.
Ivan Johnson will serve out a one-game suspension imposed by the league in the 4:15 p.m. contest against the Elite, who will be spearheaded by high-leaping lefty Malcolm Rhett.
Star and Meralco slug it out in the nightcap at 7 p.m.
Johnson was also fined P50,000 by commissioner Chito Narvasa for fighting in a pre-tournament exhibition game with this same Elite crew that will be seeking to make it past the eliminations for the second straight conference.
Jason Castro, the fleet-footed Gilas Pilipinas star, and the rest of TNT’s star-studded local lineup will be tasked to plug the holes created by Johnson’s absence.
That would put rookies Moala Tautuaa and Troy Rosario in the spotlight again, with the two agile big men continuing their baptism of fire as future franchise players of the multititled TNT squad.
The Texters ruled this tournament by nipping Rain or Shine and Wayne Chism in seven gripping games in the title series last season, with Johnson getting involved in all kinds of trouble, including one against coach Yeng Guiao that cost him a P150,000 fine.
He had escaped suspension in all occasions, but not in the recent one when he got into a scuffle with Blackwater big men Frank Golla and JP Erram.
Rhett is one of the youngest in the current crop of reinforcements at 23 years old. He will make his first PBA stint after playing in professional leagues in Europe.
Meanwhile, former Best Import winner Denzel Bowles makes yet another appearance for the Hotshots, whom he helped win this tournament under Grand Slam winner Tim Cone.
Under new coach Jason Webb, Star struggled in the Philippine Cup and got booted out by crowd-darling Barangay Ginebra in the quarterfinal round.
Meralco will be led by Arinze Onuaku, who planed in as a replacement for original pick Malcolm Thomas, who sustained an injury to his right knee during the team’s preparation for the tournament.