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PBA: NLEX, TNT in crucial tiff

By Jonas Terrado

TNT KaTropa begins a new life without longtime mainstay Ranidel de Ocampo as it tries to spoil NLEX’s bid to reclaim the solo lead tonight in the PBA Governors’ Cup at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

De Ocampo’s nine-year association with the TNT franchise ended Monday night when he was dealt to Meralco in a three-team trade that also involved Phoenix, further solidifying the KaTropa’s current trend of having the young players run the show.

NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao  (MB photo | Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao (MB photo | Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

The KaTropa, entering the 7 p.m. contest with the Road Warriors carrying a 5-3 record, got some frontline help it has been lacking in recent years by obtaining Justin Chua from Meralco and Norbert Torres from Phoenix in the deal.

Meantime, Rain or Shine looks to stay in contention for the twice-to-beat advantage in the 4:15 p.m. opener Phoenix, which has lost seven in a row after a 2-0 start.

The Elasto Painters are tied with the struggling Star Hotshots for sixth at 4-3, half-game behind the KaTropa and the Beermen for fourth.

Out to lead Rain or Shine are Raymond Almazan, Jericho Cruz, Gabe Norwood and two-time MVP James Yap.

Also crucial for ROS is how import J’Nathan Bullock responds after losing to the San Miguel Beermen the last time.

TNT coach Nash Racela hopes to see an improved showing after describing his team as “unstable” due to numerous distractions – namely the national team commitments of Jayson Castro, Roger Pogoy and Troy Rosario and the arrival of import Glen Rice Jr. in lieu of Michael Craig.

Rice has somehow proven that he’s the right fit for the team, averaging 31.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists in five games. The son of former NBA star Glen Rice has produced four straight games of at least 30 points after a lackluster debut against Rain or Shine last Aug. 20.

“Ngayong nakukumpleto na kami, sana makabwelo din kami,” Racela said after TNT’s 113-107 win over Meralco last week.

Out to spoil this latest transition that hit the MVP group’s flagship franchise is its sister team NLEX, seeking to close in on a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals.

Tied with Ginebra at the top with identical 7-2 slates, NLEX would like nothing more than to get closer on that elusive bonus as it enters the final turn of the eliminations.

“Our mission is to get to eight wins ASAP. Two tough games to accomplish that, TNT is the first big hurdle,” Guiao said.

The fiery mentor is also hoping that the De Ocampo trade would benefit them, though wary of the KaTropa’s main weapons.

“We hope the RDO trade is going to create some adjustment issues that can work to our advantage. We need to pay attention to defending Jayson, Pogoy and their import to increase our chances of being the first to make the twice to beat advantage,” he added.