by Jonas Terrado
Games Friday (Mall of Asia Arena)
4:30 p.m. – San Miguel vs Blackwater
7 p.m. – NLEX vs Magnolia
Co-leader Blackwater seeks an upset win over struggling San Miguel Beer while Jericho Cruz makes his NLEX debut against Magnolia in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Despite a 5-1 record, the Elite are relishing the underdog label in the 4:30 p.m. match with the Beermen side capable of flipping the switch despite two losses to begin the campaign in the midseason tournament.
Cruz hopes to make an immediate impact in his first appearance for the Road Warriors since being acquired in a three-way trade alongside TNT and NorthPort in the 7 p.m. duel with the Hotshots.
Blackwater is in a position to virtually clinch a quarterfinals berth after new coach Aries Dimaunahan pulled tricks off his sleeves to beat the likes of Meralco, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Columbian, Rain or Shine and NLEX.
But rookie Ray Parks Jr., mainly responsible for the Elite’s turnaround from a 2-9 campaign in the Philippine Cup, is preparing for a tough grind against the Philippine Cup champion Beermen.
“They’re champions for a reason,” Parks said. “All we can do is to try and contain them, do our best to make it hard for them and see the breaks of the game and how it goes.”
The lack of preparation after claiming its fifth consecutive All-Filipino crown in mid-May has largely contributed to SMB’s 121-88 defeat to NorthPort and 110-97 setback opposite TNT.
SMB may need to push the panic button, with the Blackwater match being the first of a stretch of two games in three days.
The Beermen face Ginebra in a Commissioner’s Cup Finals rematch slated Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Meanwhile, Cruz tries to provide the lift as NLEX aims to end a 0-5 start.
It will be interesting to see what kind of form Cruz will display after being placed in a freezer for two months by TNT prior to the trade.
The 2016 Most Improved Player had been practicing with the team since Tuesday which he hopes would be enough for him to get some rhythm.
Magnolia, on the other hand, is aching to finally score its first win after a 0-2 start but that bid will depend on how import James Farr performs after a rough debut last Wednesday.
Farr, who replaced the injured John Fields, was held to 11 points on 5-of-26 shooting in a 102-99 loss to NorthPort.