By JONAS TERRADO
NorthPort has overcome a winless start, contract disputes, injuries and the temporary absence of its ace scorer to suddenly put control of its own destiny in the PBA Governors’ Cup allowing three straight victories.
The Batang Pier gained an inside track at the quarterfinals after posting upset wins over the Meralco Bolts and Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots before taking down the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters.
Now sitting in ninth spot at 3-5, NorthPort goes into the final three games of the eliminations in high spirits with favorable odds of taking advantage of a lighter schedule.
It also comes as Robert Bolick returns from his stint with Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers which is an additional boost for coach Pido Jarencio’s squad.
“We’re very happy na kahit papaano magiging kumpleto tayo, and that the guys we’re using are contributing. Yun yung importante eh, na may tutulong,” Jarencio said Saturday after NorthPort’s 101-93 win over Phoenix Super LPG at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
Expectations were high for the Batang Pier after reaching the quarterfinals of the Philippine Cup behind Bolick’s exploits plus the strong plays of Greg Slaughter and rookie Jamie Malonzo.
They also acquired former Most Valuable Player Arwind Santos from San Miguel Beer not only to beef up its lineup but also add some veteran presence to a relatively young squad.
But NorthPort went down 0-4 before the long break due to the COVID-19 surge, then had to deal with the situation with Bolick, Greg Slaughter and Nico Elorde as the two sides couldn’t come to terms on their contract negotiations.
Bolick did reach a deal and was able to see action last Feb. 17 when NorthPort ended Meralco’s perfect start, but had to miss this week’s matches to play for Gilas in the qualifiers.
Import Jamel Artis, who replaced original choice Cameron Forte, played without relief as NorthPort put another dent on another unbeaten team, this time against Magnolia with a 103-101 decision.
Jarencio lauded Artis, averaging 30.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals since arriving, for his superb play amid the heavy minutes he has put.
But Jarencio still has some concerns, particularly with Roi Sumang sustaining a hamstring problem and Malonzo playing through an injured pinkie.
NorthPort, however, has two games against lowly Blackwater and Terrafirma before facing TNT, which opens a good chance for the team to reach the next phase of the tournament.