The noose is tightening slowly around the Meralco Bolts with five games to go in the PBA Philippine Cup elimination round.
Described as a “sprint to the finish” by most head coaches, the single round elimination will
send the top two teams to the best-of-5 semifinals, the third to sixth ballclubs to the best-of-3 quarterfinals, and the seventh to 10th placers out the door to an early vacation.
Where the Bolts lay now, at 1-3, is a dark cellar where two other blighted teams – Rain or Shine
and Barako Bull – dwell in forlorn silence.
Meralco, a power keg team with megawatt potential, hopes to start crackling Friday when it takes on the Alaska Aces at 5:15 p.m. at the Cuneta Astrodome.
The Aces are comfortably positioned in the middle of the field with a 2-2 win-loss slate, seated in the company of three San Miguel-based teams – alongside Petron Blaze (2-2) and B-Meg (2-2) and just underneath Barangay Ginebra (2-1).
They would be facing Petron in a three-game mini-series if the quarterfinals were to be held now. But with almost half a dozen more games left, the Aces are aware that a win by Air21 beneath them would vault the Express over while a loss would send them tumbling down with whoever lurks in the dungeon below.
Such is the dilemma facing both teams as they square off in the first game – both of them fighting for survival, both of them longing to see the lighted path to the playoffs.
The Bolts are coming off a 94-82 loss to inspired Powerade (2-0), a game where fiery Gary David
again set off the alarm with 29 points while drawing growling support from Tigers import Dwayne
Jones, Sean Anthony, and Marcio Lassiter, the guy at the center of an unconsummated trade deal.
Alaska is on the same boat, having dropped a 110-98 loss to now league-leader Talk ‘N Text,
unbeaten after three outings.
The Aces caught a huge break in that game after Tropang Texters import Omar Samhan suffered a torn knee ligament (ACL) in the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t convert.
Ryan Gregorio, the Bolts coach, knows where they stand – which is precariously on the brink of
“We have to find ways to win, that is our goal,” he said. “It’s important that our attitude
is positive and we believe it that it can be done.”
The changes in their roster, Gregorio said, is designed to strengthen their rotation.
“Unfortunately, when you make changes, it usually takes time to stabilize. However, with the
format, you don’t really have the luxury of time,” he said.
The need to “fast track the process” to avoid losses, Gregorio admitted, is their biggest
The Bolts are pinning much of their expectations on 7-foot NBA veteran and former Red Bull import Earl Barron, who had 22 points against Powerade, and the returning Sol Mercado.
“I believe that when Earl Barron gets his timing and Sol gets his game back, we will be
competitive,” Gregorio said. “Right now, we are pretty much in a feeling-out-each-other stage
again. But steps were undertaken the past week to find the right ingredient to increase our chances of winning.”
Alaska is not expected to hang around when that happens.
Adam Parada, the Aces import, along with LA Tenorio, Cyrus Baguio and Sonny Thoss, won’t be
standing and applauding for the Bolts to come together. Instead, look for them to throw in disarray posthaste Meralco’s effort to assimilate all “newcomers” back to their system.
Joel Banal, the Aces coach, looks beyond the big guns of both camps.
“Both teams are coming off a bad loss, both teams have 7-foot imports, both teams have dominant
bigs in (Asi) Taulava and Thoss, both teams have prolific scoring guards in (Mac) Cardona and
Mercado, Baguio and Tenorio – it’s going to be a battle of the supporting cast,” Banal said.