Black looking at Almazan as linchpin of Bolts defense
SMART CLARK GIGA CITY — Meralco coach Norman Black has pinned much of his hopes in this Philippine Cup on Raymond Almazan, a defensive big man with championship experience the Bolts acquired in late last season.
“It’s really gonna help us a lot having him against Ginebra,” Black said of Almazan ahead of Meralco’s race-to-three semifinal duel with Barangay Ginebra, this tournament’s top-seeded team, which unfurls on Wednesday night at Angeles University Foundation powered by Smart 5G.
“Remember, we were 1-1 when we got hurt in that championship series (in last year’s Governors’ Cup). So we’re really competitive with Ginebra until he went down,” Black said.
“Raymond gives us the best possible matchup we can possibly have against Japeth (Aguilar), because he is a real problem for all teams. He’s so big, so long, so talented and very productive” he added.
Black, whose charges scored a milestone quarterfinals victory at the expense of five-time champion San Miguel Beer just two nights ago, said Almazan could come in handy in slowing down Aguilar, an athletic 6-foot-9 forward with a soft touch from mid-range.
“At least we’d have someone he’d pause (against),” Black said of Almazan. “If you put a 6-foot-4 guy against (Japeth), he is not going to pause at all. He’s just going straight, forward. And yeah, (Raymond) helps us in that sense.”
“That would be my job in this semis,” Almazan told reporters here in Filipino. “We all know how Meralco has been struggling with no presence in the middle all those years. I’d do whatever I can to help.”
Black, however, is also aware of the Gin Kings’ depth—all thanks to all of those years Meralco faced Ginebra in the season-ending conference in the last three years.
This is why he is hoping that his other wards are ready to step up despite the fact that Bolts’ bench output ranks the best among the four teams remaining inside the bubble.
“I think we can match with their first five,” Black said of the crowd darlings. “I think they’re a little bit deeper when they come off the bench, and that’s something we gotta have to get some [more] contributions from.”
“My bench is going to be tested,” he added. “The bench really has to show up against Ginebra, particularly Allein Maliksi. He has to show up. Because his scoring off the bench is gotta be key for us.