Games Today (Smart Araneta)
5:45 p.m. – Air21 vs Talk ‘N Text
8 p.m. – Barako Bull vs Petron
by Waylon Galvez
Manila, Philippines – Though the wide-bodied center June Mar Fajardo is still a doubtful starter, Petron Blaze remains steadfast in its bid to gain a piece of the lead when it battles Barako Bull today in the PLDT myDSL PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-foot-10 Fajardo missed the team’s last two games due to a right knee injury and is likely to sit out again in their 8 p.m. showdown with Barako Bull so as not to aggravate his injury.
Boosters coach Gee Abanilla saw “great improvement on Fajardo’s condition” after letting him join the team in selected light drills during practice but did not categorically say whether he will allow Fajardo to play or not.
Despite his failure to see action in the team’s previous two games, the vastly-improving Fajardo still leads the Best Player of the Conference (BPC) race as he averages 15.5 points, a league-high 17.3 rebounds, and three shot blocks.
A victory over Barako would push Petron on the same level with league-leader and idle Barangay Ginebra (9-2).
“Our next four games will be critical for us if we want to give ourselves a chance for the top two positions as we near the end of the eliminations,” said Abanilla.
But beating Barako won’t be easy if their first round encounter would be used as a gauge.
The Boosters needed one big run to finally dispatch the Energy Cola, 96-90, last Dec. 4.
Barako is also on a big mission since it is currently tied for 5th to 9th places at 4-7.
Since the last two placers at the end of the elims will be automatically eliminated, the Energy Cola should find ways to beat a team as solid as Petron.
One thing going for Barako is that it is coming off an inspiring 108-95 win over Globalport before the holiday break.
That win should make them a very dangerous squad and Abanilla knows it very well despite having a surplus of stars.
“We have a lot of respect to the Barako Bull team and we know for a fact that they are very dangerous,” he said.
Aside from Fajardo, Abanilla can count on MVP winner Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Lutz and Marcio Lassiter.
Like Abanilla, Talk ’N Text mentor Norman Black is not taking Air21 lightly when they clash at 5:45.
Even with a 2-9 record, Black still expects a tough game against Air21.
“They are a much better team than their record indicates. It’s a game where we have to play tough, maintain our focus. We must do a good job on the boards to win a game,” said Black yesterday as they prepare for the game.
The Tropang Texters are fresh from a 121-117 overtime victory against the Alaska Aces last Saturday that improved their record to 7-3.
A few hours later that same day, the Express lost to the Meralco Bolts also in OT, 92-88, for their ninth defeat in 11 games, thus putting their playoffs bid in peril.
But Air21 coach Franz Pumaren is hoping to use that defeat as an extra motivation in the hope of staving off early elimination.