(Mall of Asia Arena)
4:15 p.m – Alaska vs Blackwater (1-1)
7 p.m. – Tropang TNT (1-1) vs Globalport (1-1)
Alaska Aces start picking up the pieces when they return to the scene of their shattered dreams today, debuting in the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup against the Blackwater Elite at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Action unfolds at 4:15 p.m., an unfamiliar spot for one of the league’s most dominant ballclubs the past four conferences, with the Aces banking on tried-and-tested Rob Dozier to help relieve the pain and agony of thrice losing in the championship series to San Miguel Beer.
In the main offering, meanwhile, defending champion Tropang TNT could be without an import for the second time in three games when they take on Globalport at 7 p.m., with both of them sporting 1-1- win-loss cards, along with Blackwater.
“We are All-Filipino (today),” TNT coach Jong Uichico told Interaksyon.com via text message. “We haven’t found one yet.”
Uichico denied reports the Texters are trying to secure the services of former Chicago Bulls banger Carlos Boozer, saying they continue the search for a replacement for Ivan Johnson, who was banned for the rest of the season and fined P150,000 by PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa, a sentence downgraded from an original lifetime ban and P250,000 fine in the aftermath of several tumultuous incidents during TNT’s game with sister Meralco a few days ago.
Johnson was ejected after getting whistled for two technicals, calls made after he hit Bolts center Kelly Nabong in the mouth and elbowed forward Bryan Faundo on the temple. The former Atlanta Hawks player, who has also been banned in the NBA and in South Korea for his belligerent attitude, compounded matters by addressing Narvasa in foul language, almost triggering a physical confrontation between the two.
As the gravity of the situation, apparently, dawned on him, Johnson, who served out a one-game suspension for punching Blackwater players JP Erram and Frank Golla in a tuneup game, sought an audience with Narvasa Tuesday, bringing along his wife and two kids. The change in attitude and ensuing apology that Johnson made may have moved Narvasa to reduce the sentence.
Still, it is goodbye to Johnson, at least, for this season.
With Johnson in the roster, TNT is a dangerous offensive force capable of blowing the game away with the talented import’s aggressive inside-outside game. Without him, however, the Texters are vulnerable to the dynamite tandem of Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle, who, along with import Brian Williams, were instrumental in turning back Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 89-85, on Valentine’s Day.
Alaska, meantime, begins the long road back after bowing to San Miguel in Game 7 of the previous Philippine Cup Finals, blowing a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series and watching in anguish as the Beermen, behind the hulking June Mar Fajardo, out in the first four games while recovering from a knee injury, came charging back to sweep the next four, climaxed by that historic 96-89 victory at the MOA Arena.
Now the Aces revisit the place where all their hopes came to a crushing halt three weeks ago, and where they seek to lit a spark and rekindle a renewed bid for glorious redemption.
Led by Dozier, a second round pick of the Miami Heat out of Memphis University in 2009 who steered the Aces to their 14th and last championship in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup against Barangay Ginebra, Alaska serves as an acid test to Blackwater and import MJ Rhett. Expected back in the Elite lineup is Erram, who banged his head on the floor in in a freak accident during the game with Tropang TNT.
The Elite got the measure of fellow expansion team Mahindra, 110-102, last Sunday but are expected to find the Aces, with Dozier, Sonny Thoss, Calvin Abueva, Vic Manuel, Dondon Hontiveros and Cyrus Baguio, a much tougher opponent than the Enforcers.