4:15 p.m. – NLEX vs Phoenix
7 p.m. – Meralco vs Rain or Shine
The Meralco Bolts gun for their third straight win in the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup today at the Smart Araneta Colisum even as newcomer Phoenix Petroleum, consisting of members of the former Barako Bull team, makes its long-awaited debut.
League-leading Meralco takes on Rain or Shine at 7 p.m., with the similarly unbeaten Elasto Painters looking for their second consecutive win. The Fuel Masters, after five years of waiting, meanwhile, finally get to see their name in the lights when they face the NLEX Road Warriors, out for back-to-back victories, at 4:15 p.m.
The PBA opened the door to Phoenix late last month, unanimously approving the sale of the Barako Bull franchise to the Davao City-based oil company owned by businessman Dennis Uy and his family. Koy Banal stays as head coach although Phoenix vice president for external affairs Atty. Raymond Zorrilla now sits as alternate governor in the PBA board, replacing Manny Alvarez.
After winning their first two games, turning back the Star Hotshots, 90-86, and defending champion Tropang TNT, 88-84, in a tumultuous game that saw ill-tempered Texters import Ivan Johnson ejected in the second quarter after being called for two technicals – later getting banned for life for cursing PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa – the Bolts take on the team that eliminated them in the previous Philippine Cup, 97-87.
The E-Painters downed Denzel Bowls and the dysfunctional Star Hotshots, 95-86, four days ago but will have their hands full trying to haul heavyweight Arinze Onuaku out of the shaded lane where he drew double-, even triple-teaming defense, from the Texters last Saturday.
That Meralco-TNT game hugged the sports headlines after Johnson floored Meralco center Kelly Nabong in the first quarter by hitting him in the mouth with the back of his hand. The former Atlanta Hawks player, who was banned in South Korea in 2010 for flipping a middle finger on a referee, next elbowed Bryan Faundo on the temple as he was setting a pick four minutes before halftime.
Johnson then turned to Narvasa. who had earlier suspended him a game and fined him P250,000 for going after Blackwater players Frank Golla and JP Erram in a tuneup game, addressing the commissioner with expletives.
His ban was announced to the media right in the second half after Narvasa, who had to be restrained by media bureau chief Willie Marcial from confronting Johnson, met with his technical group during the break.
An outpouring of sympathy had since found its way to Johnson, with TNT players Ranidel de Ocampo and Danny Seigle going online to express support for their import while questioning the “lack of due process” in handing down the ban.
Even Meralco player Jared Dillinger, ironically a teammate of Nabong and Faundo who were both hurt by Johnson’s misplaced aggression, came to the defense of the TNT firebrand.
Though the two are sister teams, it is not known, though, whether a TNT player – or anybody from Meralco for that matter – had words of compassion for either Nabong or Faundo, who might have come close to suffering the bloody fate of RoS star guard Paul Lee who got elbowed in the mouth by Johnson in Game 3 of last season’s Commissioner’s Cup Finals, knocking off several of Lee’s front teeth.
An RoS insider said Johnson never apologized to Lee nor to Elasto Painters coach Yeng Guiao, who the import ran over at the sideline in Game 1, He, however, had sought an audience with Narvasa at the PBA office yesterday after initially ranting over the decision before making a 180-degree turn and profusely apologizing for his behavior.
It is expected Johnson will appeal the verdict and ask for a second chance. The Office of the Commissioner was silent when the possibility of Johnson seeking reconsideration was broached.
Meantime, Phoenix gets to parade Nigerian Kenny Adeleke, who will be severely tested by the explosive NLEX reinforcement Al Thornton, who unloaded 50 points in the Road Warriors’ 114-112 overtime win over Barangay Ginebra San Miguel last week.
If both imports cancel each other out, the battle could range between NLEX’s Asi Taulava and Phoenix’ Mick Pennisi, Jimmy Alapag against RR Garcia, and Sean Anthony against Willie Wilson.
In their media launch recently, Zorilla vowed to give every game their best as Phoenix seeks to extend the company’s corporate success to the PBA.
“We guarantee that we will go out there raring to fight and fighting ’til the end,” he said. We will all give each and every one a good fight knowing that the team is known for its passion, performance and we guarantee you that we will fight with integrity and enthusiasm.”