Kings take on Air21
by Tito S. Talao
5:45 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs Meralco
8 p.m. – Air21 vs Barangay Ginebra
Manila, Philippines – The confirmation from Meralco Bolts coach Ryan Gregorio came early Tuesday morning: The Polar Bear is playing tomorrow.
That would be today when the Bolts, basking in the glow of their mighty comeback from 20 points down against Air21 Sunday and Brian Butch’s 40 points and 31 rebounds performance, take on struggling Rain or Shine halfway through the PLDT Home TVolution PBA Commissioner’s Cup eliminations at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Gametime is at 5:45 p.m. preceding the 8 p.m. encounter between Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and Air21.
The top two teams after the single round classification get twice-to-beat incentives against the 7th and 8th-ranked ball clubs in the quarterfinal playoffs while the 9th and 10th placers get the boot.
Meralco, at 3-2, sits snugly at 4th spot behind unbeaten leaders Talk ‘N Text (6-0) and San Mig Super Coffee (3-0) and San Miguel Beer (5-1). Rain or Shine, on the other hand, has lost its last two games and tethers precariously with a 1-3 card at 8th place above Barako Bull (1-4) and Globalport (0-6).
The 3rd to 6th seeded teams go through a best-of-3 mini-series in the pre-semifinal stage.
Uphill climbing owing to the inability of import Alex Mclean to make good music with his local teammates in their first four games, the Elasto Painters are reportedly bringing in University of Tennessee’s Wayne Chism, the original choice of Barako Bull this conference.
The 6-foot-7 Chism had actually suited up for Barako in a pre-tournament scrimmage with defending champion Alaska Milk but didn’t make it to the Energy Colas’ final roster due to an unsettled contractual obligation with a team from the FIBA-sanctioned Hungarian Basketball League.
The explosive Joshua Dollard eventually took over Chism’s spot with the E-Colas, and now the Elasto Painters, who may need to buy out his contract, have opened one for Chism, who a team source bared will arrive tomorrow.
Mclean will be in the same boat as Butch, with one last chance to prove his worth to coach Yeng Guiao when the ROS import goes up against his Bolts counterpart.
But either with Mclean or Chism, Butch and the Bolts are not likely to scare easy, especially after what they’ve accomplished together against the Express and new import Wesley Witherspoon.
Not only did the Bolts, as a team, rally from a huge deficit and shut down one of the most explosive debuting imports the PBA has ever seen, they also stayed the departure, for now, of the 6-foot-11 Butch, who reportedly was headed to the airport until he conjured up that electrifying fourth quarter magic against Air21.
But the sword dangles yet above the head of the Bolts import, with NBA veteran Darnell Jackson – in town but still under wraps “doing special workouts,” according to Gregorio – biding his time until Butch makes a mistake.
In the featured game, with rumors swirling around the status of import Leon Rodgers, Barangay Ginebra seeks to break out of a tangled 3-way tie for 5th place with Air21 and Alaska, facing the Express, who are now powered by the hot-starting Witherspoon.
The sub for Herve Lamizana had 44 points against the Bolts before fading from fatigue in the fourth and now looks to reestablish himself. He played 40 minutes without a single assist which would have spelled the difference for the Express after the Bolts started doubling on Witherspoon in the last 12 minutes.
Ginebra, meantime, is stuck with what it has.
Reports indicate no replacement has been arranged for Rodgers, who weathered speculations last week that former Best Import Gabe Freeman and later Darnell Jackson, the Bolts’ import-in-waiting, were taking over.
A third name has now cropped up: Josh Powell, a 6-foot-9 forward from North Carolina State who has had stints in six NBA teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers from 2008-2010, according to Wikipedia.
No official announcement has come out of Ginebra management, however, and Rodgers remains the Kings’ take-charge guy against Witherspoon and Air21.
“Not likely,” said a Kings insider when asked if a new import will be brought in.