NLEX, Meralco in vital tiff
by Jonas Terrado
Games Today (Cuneta Astrodome)
4:30 p.m. – San Miguel vs Blackwater
7 p.m. – NLEX vs Meralco
Defending champion San Miguel resumes its quest to gain a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals against Blackwater while NLEX and Meralco meet in a crucial match today in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Cuneta Astrodome.
With their quarterfinal entry a mere formality, the Beermen (6-1) are eager to keep their strong showing in the season-opening conference and deal the Elite (2-5) their fifth consecutive defeat in the opener set at 4:30 p.m.
But the tussle between NLEX and Meralco at 7 p.m. could overshadow the curtain raiser as the two sides need a win to stay in the playoff picture.
NLEX is coming off a morale-boosting 81-78 victory over Barangay Ginebra San Miguel last Saturday and is currently in a four-way logjam for fifth along with the latter, Phoenix and TNT KaTropa at 4-4.
Meralco and Blackwater hold identical 2-5 slates and another setback would put them in danger of missing the playoffs with three games to spare each.
The Beermen regained the solo lead Sunday after rallying from a double-digit deficit to stun the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok, 77-76, at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
San Miguel, which bounced back from a 100-96 defeat to Ginebra last Jan. 28, is out to continue its form with Alex Cabagnot still out with an injured foot.
Chico Lanete, whose three-pointer gave the Beermen the lead with less than two minutes left against the Hotshots, could use that heroic effort to play a prominent role off the bench.
San Miguel could be hard-pressed to beat a talented Blackwater squad led by Mac Belo, Poy Erram, Allein Maliksi, Mike DiGregorio and rookie Raymar Jose.
Meanwhile, NLEX coach Yeng Guiao and his team are confident of its playoff chances after erasing a 14-point deficit to beat Ginebra behind the efforts of JR Quiñahan, Cyrus Baguio, Larry Fonacier and Alex Mallari.
Rookie Kiefer Ravena, who shot 1-of-12 for seven points against the Kings, is keen on redeeming himself against the Bolts, who are in danger of a third straight losing record in the all-Filipino tourney.