Focus on ‘D’
Of all the times that Meralco has squared off with Barangay Ginebra, there are two games that Norman Black remembers clearly.
In both, the Bolts had a healthy Raymond Almazan to plant as some sort of guardrail in front of the basket.
“Remember, we were 1-1 when we got hurt in that championship series [in last year’s Governors’ Cup],” Black said. “So we’re really competitive with Ginebra until he went down.” And Almazan as a crash barrier is doubly important for the one player that Black didn’t have a matchup for before.
“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” Black said.
“At least we’d have someone he’d pause [against],” he added. “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.”
Defense will play a big part as the PBA Philippine Cup begins its semifinal showdowns on Wednesday at Angeles University Foundation powered by Smart 5G.
Meralco is hoping Almazan will be the linchpin of a defensive scheme that could slow down the Kings, who have enviable scoring depth. With Stanley Pringle virtually unstoppable from the backcourt, Black hopes they can at least focus defense on the dynamic guard without having to worry too much about Aguilar.
And Almazan understands the importance of his role.
“[Defending the post] would be my job in this semis,” Almazan told reporters here in Filipino. “We all know how Meralco had been struggling defending the post all those years. I will do whatever I can to help.”“It’s really gonna help us a lot having him against Ginebra,” Black said of Almazan.
Defense will also be the focus in the other semifinal pairing, never mind if it features two trigger-happy squads.
No. 2 Phoenix and No. 3 TNT open the doubleheader at 3:45 p.m. looking to silence the other’s guns.
“I just hope for consistency. Our offense can take care of itself,” TNT coach Bong Ravena told the Inquirer. “It’s simple. If we make stops, we get to execute. So we’re really more concerned with how we make stops.”
Both teams certainly won’t have problems getting points.
Matthew Wright leads a Phoenix squad, averaging close to 23 points per game (No. 2 in the league) on 45-percent shooting. The Fuel Masters average 13.5 three-point shots made, No. 1 in the league, which fuels a per-game average of 100.6 points (No. 2 in the league). TNT, which has six to seven players capable of scoring in double figures every night, makes 11.6 triples per game (No. 2 in the league) in an offense that produces 98.6 points a night (third in the league).Naturally, stopping each other will be a priority.
“We definitely got to defend and try to stay disciplined with our system,” said Ray Parks Jr., Tropang Giga’s two-way guard. “They’re going to come out strong.”
In particular, the Tropang Giga are wary of the one player who wasn’t present during their 110-91 rout of the Fuel Masters in their elimination round meeting: do-it-all forward Calvin Abueva.
“We all know just how much he contributes,” TNT dead-eye shooter RR Pogoy told Sports Page on Monday. “Calvin is a huge difference-maker.”
In six games since returning from a 16-month suspension, Abueva is averaging 13.7 points, 10.7 rebounds (second in the league), 6.7 assists (league leader) and 1.3 steals, proving he is a force on both ends of the floor.
Phoenix coach Topex Robinson is expected to unleash both Wright and Abueva, but he also isn’t harboring pretensions that having both at full capacity makes the Fuel Masters the favorite in this matchup.
“At this point, we just want to enjoy this experience. We have nothing to lose. TNT is the best team coming into this bubble, bar none,” Robinson said, despite his team posting a higher seed than its foe. “They have a solid lineup, great coaching staff.”“For us, we’re ready to pull surprises. We’re the underdogs here,” he said. “[And] longer the series for us, the better we’re exposed to tough times—and that’s only gonna make us stronger.”Black also believes the Kings will be favored in their half of the Final Four bracket, an understandable conclusion given the Bolts are the only squad outside of the Top 4 to make the semifinals.
Meralco, he said, will be on equal footing with Ginebra only while both teams’ starters are on the floor.
“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.” INQ
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