Defending champion San Miguel Beer and NLEX seek their second straight wins and a share of leadership against debuting teams today in the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen take on the Meralco Bolts and comebacking Jimmy Alapag at 7 p.m., while the Road Warriors face the Barako Bull Energy in the 4:15 p.m. curtainraiser. Places alongside league-leading Rain or Shine await SMB and NLEX if they prevail.
With June Mar Fajardo gradually subjecting his recuperating foot to more pressure, the Beermen turned back the Globalport Batang Pier, 97-86, in Davao City last Oct. 24, while the Road Warriors downed the Blackwater Elite, 90-86, the day before.
Plantar fasciitis, a condition that causes painful swelling underfoot, forced Fajardo away from team practice for months, not to mention a chance to play for the national team in the recent FIBA Asia Championship in China.
But rest, medicine and therapy have slowly healed the injury and Fajardo picked up from he had left last season by scoring 21 points with 17 rebounds and 3 blocked shots against Globalport.
“Di ko pa masyadong nakukuha yung rhythm namin. Nung una, nangangapa pa kami pero nakuha na rin namin nung second half,” Fajardo told PBA.ph.
Asked how his recovery is going, the 6-foot-10 center, named to the 17-man Gilas Plipinas pool that will compete in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in July next year, said: “Wino-work out ko naman yung recovery. Eventually, darating din ako doon, basta lagi lang mag-therapy at pahinga.”
Fil-Am rookie Simon Enciso, meanwhile, showcased his arrival with a bang in NLEX’s first game of the season, pouring 15 points with 5 three-point shots behind the 19 points and 10 rebounds of the unsinkable Asi Taulava against Blackwater.
Known as the Filipino D-Rose for a playing style pattered after the NBA Chicago Bulls superstar, Enciso, drafted in the second round by Rain or Shine and then dealt to NLEX in a trade, went 5 of 8 from the field with 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 28:29 minutes, putting the former Notre Dame de Namur University Argonaut and Cebuna Lhuillier guard in the PBA D-League up there in the list of early candidates for Rookie of the Year honor.
The SMB-Meralco game will be an oncourt reunion for former Gilas teammates Fajardo and Alapag, who were together during the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship in Manila and the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Sevilla, Spain.
Alapag came out of brief retirement with the goal of suiting up, if needed, for Gilas in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic qualifier last August. But months of inactivity and some minor injuries kept the lion-hearted 2011 PBA most valuable player from pushing through with his plan, and he spent the rest of the off-season preparing for his grand return as a Meralco Bolts player.
Meralco was to play Barangay Ginebra San Miguel after the Barako Bull-Mahindra game last Oct. 21. But the Wednesday schedule had to be rescheduled after the 41st season inaugural offering between Rain or Shine and Star on Oct. 18 was called off due to Typhoon Lando.
The ROS-Star game was reset to Wednesday instead, along with the opening ceremony.
Ginebra and new coach Tim Cone went on to face the Star Hotshots, Cone’s former team, getting handily beaten, 86-78, last Sunday, while Mahindra took on Rain or Shine, dropping a 108-94 decision but claiming a piece of history after playing-coach and eight-division world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao scored his first basket as a PBA player.
Guard-heavy Barako Bull also makes its maiden bow against NLEX, hoping to use its speedy backcourt of Josh Urbiztondo, James Forrester, Emman Monfort, RR Garcia, Jeric Fortuna and Chico Lanete to thwart the Road Warriors’ low post superiority.