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PBA: Barako eyes share of lead

by Tito S. Talao

Barako Bull seeks to sustain a rousing start, while San Mig Coffee hopes to end an ignoble one.

The two ballclubs meet separate opponents today at the Mall of Asia Arena, with both eyeing victories that should help define their future in the elimination round of the PLDT myDSL-PBA Philippine Cup.

Silencing critics who questioned their decision to trade first round draft picks for “tried and tested” veteran players, the Energy Cola have won their first two games, including one against the Alaska Aces, 97-93, and can share leadership with two others with a win over the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters at 5:15 p.m.

Idle Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and Petron Blaze sit atop the standings with 3-0 slates but may have to give up space if Barako Bull prevails over a team that just saw its own 2-0 streak snapped by Barangay Ginebra, 97-84, last Sunday.

In the 3 p.m. curtain raiser, San Mig Coffee and equally downtrodden Air21 clash in search for their first win after 0-3 starts.

While misery loves company, neither the Mixers nor the Express would choose to be mired this early at rock bottom of the 14-game elimination where the two teams with the worst win-loss records would be ousted from playoff contention.

Injury-saddled San Mig is coming off a 91-78 loss to hobbled Petron, while Air21 looks to get back on track after getting derailed by the Meralco Bolts, 112-79.

The absence of Joe Devance (patellar tendonitis) and PJ Simon (Achilles heel), and the long recovery back from ACL surgery by Allein Maliksi, are odds San Mig couldn’t overcome, especially with star James Yap unable to carry his team.

We still got guys out who are not coming back soon,” said San Mig coach Tim Cone. “But it’s a long conference. And we expect to get there at some point in the conference.”

Yap would have to tow the Mixers, however, if they are to get anywhere.

The two-time MVP played just 23 minutes in that lost to the Boosters, 17 less than Mark Barroca, who came off the bench, 7 less than fellow starters Marc Pingris and rookie Ian Sangalang, and 3 less than neophyte JR Cawaling.

Cone sat Yap down for most the second half after the fading superstar went 1 of 8 from the floor. Barroca finished with 20, Pingris 16, Cawaling 14 (3 of 4 in 3s), and Sangalang 12.

Will Cone bench his No. 1 player again if he starts cold? That seems a possibility because the Mixers mentor had done it a couple of times before.

And how would Yap react? That would be the even bigger question.

Pingris blames the long-lasting euphoria of their last championship (Governors’ Cup).

“Dala-dala pa rin namin,” he said. ”Ang feeling namin, kaya namin lahat ng kalaban kahit hindi kami mag-ensayo.”

Air21 would want nothing more than to foster a little longer that attitude in the Mixers.

The Express were in the thick of the fight against the Bolts only to reel back when John Wilson (all-time-tying 6 for 6 triples) and Sunday Salvacion (4 of 9 3s) turned hot in the second quarter.

Against the Mixers and their struggling offense, Air21 could be on equal footing.

The featured offering between Barako Bull and Rain or Shine is expected to be a clash of brutes among the Elasto Painters’ Beau Belga and JR Quinahan and the Energy Cola’s Dorian Pena, Willy Wilson, Mark Isip and Mick Pennisi.

The 6-foot-9 Pennisi, a near-forgotten inside presence, reintroduced everybody to his outside shooting by going 3 for 3 from beyond the arc, along with Keith Jensen, during a pivotal stretch against the Aces, who had no answer to the E-Cola’s 17 three-point shots (7 from Ronjay Buenafe).