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PBA: Embattled Kings

JUNMAR Fajardo vs Raymond Almazan

Slumping Ginebra battles winless Globalport; Tropang Texters eye 5th straight win
by Waylon Galvez

Games Today (Cuneta Astrodome)
5:45 p.m. – Talk ’N Text vs Meralco
8 p.m. – Globalport vs Ginebra

Games Tomorrow (Smart Araneta)
2:45 p.m. – Barako Bull vs San Miguel Beer
5:15 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs San Mig Super Coffee

Manila, Philippines – Talk ’N Text aims for a fifth straight victory in the shortened conference when it battles Meralco as action continues in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup today at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.

Fresh from their 101-96 win against the Air21 Express last Sunday, the 4-0 Tropang Texters are heavily-favored opposite the Bolts with ‘do-it-all’ import Richard Howell leading the way.

The TNT versus Meralco (2-1) game is set at 5:45 p.m., while winless Globalport (0-4) meets Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (1-2) at 8 p.m.

“The goal is to continue to play solid basketball on both offense and defense,” said TNT coach Norman Black.

“Concerns would be on how to contain (Meralco import) Brian Butch, and also to defend their three-point shooting. JD (Jared Dillinger) will also be back (for Meralco) so we will have to do a good defensive job versus his penetrations.”

Stopping the prolific shooter Butch will fall on the broad shoulders of Talk ’N Text reinforcement Howell, who has played solid so far this conference with his 26.25 points and 20.5 rebounds per game average.

Amidst all the rumors of import change, Meralco will continue to have Butch.

Even as the team denies the rumors, it was reported that his replacement has arrived. He is NBA veteran Darnell Jackson, who played for the Cleveland Cavaliers with Lebron James. He also had stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Sacramento Kings.

Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio confirmed that “Butch is playing” as he refused to answer inquiry about the status of Jackson.

For now, what concerns Gregorio is their game against TNT.

“They’re hot. They’ve been playing well on both ends of the floor,” Gregorio said. “So it’s critical for us to disrupt their rhythm offensively. We must be able to handle Jayson (Castro) and Jimmy (Alapag), they’ve been doing tremendous job controlling the tempo.”

The Bolts mentor added: “The best way to stop them is focus on defense. We cannot battle them squarely if it’s just our offense. We must dictate the flow of the game with defense as our strongest arsenal.”

Meralco is fresh from back-to-back wins as Butch showcased his shooting.

First he scored 27 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the three-point area with 17 rebounds in an 85-76 victory over defending champion Alaska, and then he followed that up with a 42-point explosion punctuated by another six booming triples with 24 boards in a 104-99 win against Globalport.

Prior to that, Butch’s PBA debut had him score 29 points but he missed all his attempts from three-point territory in a 94-76 loss to San Miguel Beer.

For TNT, aside from Howell, Alapag and Castro, Black will also rely on his other locals like KG Canaleta, Larry Fonacier, Ranidel de Ocampo, Kelly Williams, Ryan Reyes and Harvey Carey.

Another import will again be on the microscope as Leon Rodgers tries to help Ginebra end a two-game skid following a 90-80 loss to San Mig Super Coffee last Sunday where he scored 33 points but shot (12-of-33) nearly half of the team’s total field goal attempts (25-of-69).

Rodgers’ PBA debut saw him score 31 points with eight rebounds in a 108-104 overtime victory over Barako Bull, but he struggled in a 112-96 defeat to San Miguel as he collected 33 points on 9-of-27 shooting, including 0-of-7 threes, with 11 rebounds.

Sources said Ginebra considered Gabe Freeman, the former Best Import winner, who played for San Miguel Beer and Barako Bull but didn’t push through.

Ginebra, according to reports, is also eyeing Jackson.

Ginebra will face a Globalport side aiming for its first win this conference under rookie head coach Pido Jarencio, who is hoping that the long break will rejuvenate his team with import Evan Brock leading the way.