Almazan knee injury rips huge hole in Meralco’s championship bid
Raymond Almazan is doubtful and Meralco can’t help but just be hopeful.
And the best-of-seven series for the PBA Governors’ Cup between hungry Meralco and Barangay Ginebra—which even the coaches predicted would most likely go the distance—seems to be favoring the crowd darling Gin Kings, who gun for a commanding 3-1 lead on Wednesday night enjoying all sorts of advantages at the slot at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao.
Almazan, signed last year to plug a gaping hole in Meralco’s middle, had an awkward landing six minutes into Game 3 on Sunday, and results of an extensive MRI scan revealed the 6-foot-8 center to have suffered a lateral meniscal tear on the left knee, which left the Bolts hobbled from there. If he continues to sit it out, Meralco will be severely handicapped in a series that could now end much earlier than expected.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m., and the Bolts are hoping that Almazan could suit up after the swelling has subsided and after the hard-nosed slot man expressed desire to play and help the team win its first title.
After Almazan was literally given a piggyback ride by teammate Raymar Jose back to the locker room in Game 3, the Kings went on to lead by as many as 23 points on the way to the most authoritative win of the series.
And with Japeth Aguilar having his best title series—even with Almazan healthy in the first two games and for six minutes in Game 3—the 6-foot-9 power forward could have his way inside ever more with no one from the Meralco bench agile enough to match up with the lanky Gilas Pilipinas mainstay.
“We are not going to risk his career,” Meralco team manager Paolo Trillo told the Inquirer over the phone on Tuesday. “We will continue to assess his situation and will keep talking to Raymond on how he feels. He’s saying he wants to play—and that he can play—but we are not taking that chance with his career.”
Ginebra coach Tim Cone admitted the absence of Almazan was “huge, huge, huge,” although he did not talk about the edge that they could have in Game 4 if the former Letran ace in the NCAA does sit it out.
But it is not just Aguilar that the Meralco defense would have to deal with, as the 7-foot Greg Slaughter is also playing well, giving Cone the luxury of a twin-tower combine that could bury the Bolts deep.
The Bolts are in a fragile situation and would need to make a critical decision come game time, as another loss would shove them on cliff’s edge, while making Almazan play—and granting that they win—would also prolong the series and not give an assurance that Almazan would be healthy enough to play the rest of the way.
Should Almazan, who was averaging 17.5 points and a shade under 11 rebounds before the unfortunate incident, sit out the rest of this title series, Meralco would fall back into the very same situation it was in when it lost to this same Ginebra side in the 2016 and 2017 versions of the season-ending conference in a combined 13 games—when the Bolts played without a legitimate, reliable big man.“Obviously, he’s a presence. Or, his lack of presence was really felt,” Cone said after Game 3 of Almazan, who will be further evaluated by specialist Dr. George Canlas supposedly before game time.
Meralco coach Norman Black still would have a Bryan Faundo and a Cliff Hodge to throw at either Aguilar of Slaughter and while Faudo has the size, he doesn’t have the dexterity that Almazan and Hodge—who is terribly undersized at the slot—both have.
“We will try to camouflage it or try to fix it,” Black said. INQ
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