Either Barako Bull forward Rico Maierhofer is breaking in a new pair of shoes in the game today or he’ll be wearing very expensive footwear – worth P20,000 to be exact.
Whichever, Maierhofer is advised to make sure those straps are securely fastened this time.
The costly comic relief aside, a share of leadership and a four-game winning streak will be on the line in two livewire games halfway through the elimination round of the PBA Governors’ Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
With the top four teams getting twice-to-beat incentives in the quarterfinal playoffs and the last four getting one-way tickets to the blues, co-leader Barako Bull takes on Rain or Shine at 3 p.m. while red-hot San Miguel Beer tests Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and comebacking Greg Slaughter at 5:15 p.m.
Behind 7-foot Canadian import Liam McMorrow, a former hockey defensive player who brushes off physical contact like flies, the Energy, tied on top with the Alaska Aces with 4-1 cards, can retake solo leadership with a victory over the Elasto Painters.
ROS, on the other hand, is looking to bounce back from a 93-81 loss to Barangay Ginebra in Dubai last week, improve on its 1-3 record and move away from a precarious 9th spot.
Fourth-running SMB, meantime, seeks to disengage from the company of Globalport on 4-2 slates when it meets the 8th-placed Kings (2-3) and their returning center, who stepped on the foot of backup center Dorian Pena in team practice two days before the start of the conference and sat out Ginebra’s first five games.
“We’re preparing Greg for the game against San Miguel,” said Ginebra coach Frankie Lim in Dubai where he left behind Slaughter to give his ankle more time to heal but brought along 6-foot-10 forward Japeth Aguilar, who missed the Kings opening four matches with a right hamstring pull.
Aguilar played erratically against ROS in the first half, getting bawled over by Lim in the locker room at the break. But he returned with a vengeance in the second half, scoring 9 straight points in the fourth quarter to steer the Kings to safety.
With Slaughter and Aguilar again giving Ginebra a Twin Tower frontline, prodigious import Orlando Johnson and the Kings’ prolific guards – Mark Caguioa, LA Tenorio and Sol Mercado – can expect less harassment when they launch the offense from the outside.
That may be debatable, of course, since the Beermen are on a mission of their own.
Having put behind him the ill effects of food poisoning which left him drained in their first couple of games, SMB import Arizona Reid has been a tormenting presence for the Beermen’s opponents ever since.
And with Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos and the suddenly deadly Ronald Tubid finding their mark lately, the post-up battle between Slaughter and SMB’s 6-foot-10 center Junemar Fajardo should provide a riveting counterpoint to the run-and-gun play both teams are proficiently adept at.
An amusing sidelight to the Barako Bull-Rain or Shine game will be the ongoing watch for the kind of shoes Maierhofer will be wearing in the game after he was fined a whopping R20,000 for an extremely innovative defensive move during their game with SMB.
Losing his shoe after a basket, Maierhofer, with no time to slip it on, had raced back in transition, took on Santos one-on-one and then helped out on Gabby Espinas, using his shoe to deny Espinas a shot and forcing him to make a bad pass.
No calls were made by the apparently baffled referees on the comical if bizarre sequence, catching not a few by surprise then when the PBA came down with the hammer on Maierhofer’s hilarious antic.
Observers believe a technical should have been called on the play, with Maierhofer getting whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct, at worst.