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PBA: Duel for lead: Star vs Meralco

Games Today
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
4:15 p.m. – NLEX vs Alaska
7 p.m. – Star vs Meralco

The Meralco Bolts and Star Hotshots return from a two-week break with a chance at gaining the solo lead and a step closer to a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals when they clash today in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s victory over San Miguel last Sunday allowed Meralco and Star to climb into a share of top spot at 7-2 going into their 7 p.m. contest – their first game since coming out with contrasting results last May 10.

Out to rebound is Meralco, which fell 94-86 to GlobalPort, while seeking to continue its winning ways is Star, a 107-97 victor over TNT KaTropa – thanks to an impressive debut by returning import Ricardo Ratliffe.

Bolts coach Norman Black certainly do not want to see another defeat, especially with his team and the Hotshots a half-game ahead of Ginebra and San Miguel – both at 6-2 – and TNT (7-3) as the elimination round nears its final week.

“It’s a bad feeling to lose especially since GlobalPort is one of the lower teams and we’re trying to get the twice-to-beat, and that kinda puts a damper on our ability to do that especially we have two really tough teams coming up in Star and Ginebra (on Sunday),” Black said.

“At the same time, every team has lost in the league, so your ability to bounce back from the losses will be the key to success,” he added.

Meralco is counting on import Alex Stepheson to dominate the shaded lane and for locals Chris Newsome, Baser Amer, Jared Dillinger and Cliff Hodge to deliver in the most important stretch of the elims.

Stepheson, who is averaging 17.8 points, 22.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks this conference, will be up against Ratliffe, the returning Hotshots import who put up 37 points and 22 rebounds against the KaTropa in his first game since replacing Tony Mitchell.

Ratliffe, who saw action for the Hotshots in last year’s Commissioner’s Cup and was coming off a stint in Korea, feels that he’s going to get accustomed to the style of play of coach Chito Victolero in the long run.

“I like the style of play we play this year,” said Ratliffe, who chose to play for Star instead of his original plan to participate in a one-month tournament in Dubai. “It’s kind of similar last year on offense, but now I think the defense is just better. We take pride on defense.”