by Jonas Terrado
Game Friday (Mall of Asia Arena)
7 p.m. – Alaska vs Meralco
Alaska and Meralco dispute the eighth and final quarterfinals berth in what could be thrilling playoff affair in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The winner of the 7 p.m. encounter will earn the right to face top seed and twice-to-beat TNT KaTropa in their quarterfinals showdown on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Both teams arranged a one-game faceoff after ending the eliminations in a three-way tie with Phoenix Pulse at 4-7.
Phoenix was eliminated due to an inferior quotient, giving Alaska and Meralco another chance at catching the quarterfinal bus despite a disappointing campaign in the midseason conference.
Alaska lost five straight games after a 4-2 start while Meralco, usually a contender in import-laden conferences, struggled to find consistency marred by a five-game skid at one point.
The Aces hold the psychological edge over the Bolts, winning their lone elimination round encounter, 93-89, last June 9 at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
Things have changed since then as Alaska went on its current losing spell while handing Chris Daniels the pink slip to make room for “balik-import” Diamon Simpson.
Meralco couldn’t get more from Gani Lawal while Jimmie Lee Taylor was a dud in his one-game appearance. The Bolts eventually settled with Delroy James, who kept the team’s playoff hopes alive following Wednesday’s 95-91 victory over San Miguel Beer.
James, averaging 25.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game, and Simpson (22.7 points and 20.3 rebounds) are among the key matchups in the do-or-die duel.
Alaska’s Chris Banchero (19.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists) clash with Meralco’s Baser Amer (10.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists) at the point while Vic Manuel of the Aces could engage Bolts center Raymond Almazan in a battle down low.