Meralco plays back-to-back games against tough foes, and considering what is at stake, the Bolts will need to pour everything they have into those matches.
With No. 2 seeding on the line, the Bolts clash with NLEX on Wednesday and will return to the Don Honorio Ventura State University gym floor less than 24 hours later against Barangay Ginebra, with a win in any of those giving them a twice-to-beat bonus in the first round of the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs.
“We want to win every game,” Meralco coach Norman Black told the Inquirer late Tuesday. “But right now, our primary focus in on our first game, which is NLEX. We know what’s at stake.”
None of Meralco’s last two foes will take it easy considering that the Road Warriors and the defending champion Gin Kings also have a lot riding in those games: They both are at the tail end of the list of teams that will advance to the playoffs, with Ginebra within reach of three other ballclubs tiptoeing on the edge of elimination.
Two playdates are left in the elimination round and only two things have been decided thus far: TNT grabbing the No. 1 seed and Blackwater—which now owns the longest losing streak in the league—the only side eliminated thus far.
Black and his charges will go all-out in their last two outings since they would need some momentum going into the quarterfinals, regardless of whether they bag No. 2 or not. And he will need all hands on deck for the job.
Black said that “we will almost be at full strength” for their last two games, although his son, Aaron, will still be evaluated in the next two days and “will be out for the week.”
Reynel Hugnatan is also not playing to attend to the death of an immediate family member.
The top two teams at the end of the classification round will have twice-to-beat protection in the first round of the playoffs, and for Meralco, that would also mean avoiding current topnotchers Tropang Giga early in the playoffs. But Black said that he hasn’t planned that far yet.
“Right now our focus is to make the quarterfinals first and then take it from there,” Black said. “We also still don’t know who we will be playing [in the first round], so we’re not really thinking that far ahead.”
Alaska also plays two straight days, colliding with San Miguel Beer on Wednesday and then NorthPort the following day, with the Aces needing no less than a sweep to at least forge a playoff for the last quarterfinal slot.
Meralco-NLEX is slated at 3 p.m., with the Bolts looking to win a third straight game to cement that valuable second ranking. That would mean playing the No. 7 team in the first round of the playoffs, which could ultimately be the Gin Kings, if they win on Thursday against the Bolts.
A Meralco sweep could ease Ginebra out of the playoff picture and put an end to what has been a roller-coaster campaign for the crowd-darlings who were heavily tipped to repeat here even with June Mar Fajardo returning to the Beermen.
And it would represent some sort of a payback for Meralco, which got eliminated in last year’s Philippine Cup semifinals on a dagger triple by Barangay Ginebra’s Scottie Thompson.
One Meralco win in its last two games would also ease idle Magnolia down to No. 3 in the standings, with the Hotshots’ only hope of tabbing the second quarterfinal bonus resting on two Bolts losses.
Fajardo and the Beermen will be shooting for a win that would give them a No. 4 ranking and avoid a collision with fellow powerhouse and sister team Magnolia up until the Finals, if ever, should the Hotshots qualify as No. 3.
San Miguel was the dynasty of the last decade, only for Ginebra to topple that last season in the Angeles bubble, where the Beermen failed to make the Finals.
Those who finish in the middle of the pack after the eliminations will play in best-of-three series, with No. 3 clashing with No. 6 and No. 4 and No. 5 colliding.
So, that makes all the final four games important as far as positioning is concerned as even idle Terrafirma and Phoenix are still in the running for the last spot depending on the results of the last two days. INQ
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