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4:15 p.m. – San Miguel vs NLEX
7 p.m. – Star vs Blackwater
San Miguel, NLEX meet for share of leadership; Star, Blackwater clash.
With a prolific import in Henry Walker and a local crew that got additional firepower in the offseason, the NLEX Road Warriors may have found the right formula to become a serious contender in the PBA Governors’ Cup.
The Road Warriors get their first acid test today when they take on defending champion San Miguel Beermen for a share of the early lead in the season-ending conference at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
NLEX and San Miguel, which won their opening assignments last weekend, clash at 4:15 p.m while Star and Blackwater, which lost their opening assignments, collide in the 7 p.m. nightcap in pursuit of ice-breaking wins.
The Hotshots were beaten, 100-92, by the Mahindra Enforcer while the Elite fell, 96-90, to the Road Warriors.
The winner of the NLEX-San Miguel tussle will join idle teams Meralco and Mahindra at the top at 2-0.
San Miguel, despite the absence of four key players to injuries, began its title-retention bid with a 124-113 defeat of Phoenix last Sunday.
But the Beermen will have their hands full against Road Warriors import Walker, who fired 44 points on 15-of-25 shooting with six triples in the victory over the Elite.
Walker, now with NLEX after playing for Alaska in the 2014 Governors’ Cup, drew support from Mac Baracael, one of the team’s three new players, and Kevin Alas, who each scored 12 points, and Jonas Villanueva who added 11.
“They really have a very good import this conference and backed by a solid local support, I believe they are up for a breakthrough conference. NLEX is a very dangerous opponent,” said SMB coach Leo Austria.
NLEX is eyeing its best finish since joining the league in 2014 by purchasing the Air21 franchise. But in order to do that, the team coached by Boyet Fernandez must produce a much-better showing than their four quarterfinal appearances in the five conferences.
“We’re taking it one game at a time. We got our first win, but with San Miguel up, we’ll be tested early. This is a big game for us since they’re the defending champion,” said Fernandez.
“We expect our import to lead us, but it’s not just him. Every player needs to contribute, needs to step up. It will be a total team effort, especially on the defensive end to win against SMB,” added Fernandez.
San Miguel will continue to miss the services of Arwind Santos (knee), Gabby Espinas (knee) and Chris Lutz (muscle imbalance) but remains a formidable squad with two-time Best Import Arizona Reid and reigning two-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo in tow.
Reid erupted for 41 points and 10 rebounds against Phoenix, while Fajardo delivered 21 points and 11 rebounds.