(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
4:15 p.m. – NLEX vs Mahindra
7 p.m. – Meralco vs TNT KaTropa
Mahindra, NLEX seek to break into win column.
The Meralco Bolts, bannered by their import posing an enormous physique, shoot for their third straight win and the solo lead when they face the debuting TNT KaTropa today in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Meralco is on track for another impressive run in the midseason conference behind import Alex Stepheson, which he and the rest of the Bolts look to continue against the KaTropa in their 7 p.m. contest.
After a so-so showing in the Philippine Cup when they won just three games, the Bolts are on pace to exceed that mark after beating the Mahindra Floodbuster and NLEX Road Warriors thanks to Stepheson, whose double-double performances have been a huge factor.
Stepheson had 11 points and 21 rebounds in Meralco’s 94-86 win over Mahindra exactly a week, before posting 18 points and 24 rebounds despite some rugged play, helping the Bolts frustrate the Road Warriors, 91-84.
“I’m just trying to do what coach asks of me, to play strong inside, rebound, play strong defense and score inside,” Stepheson said. “I know they had the best import two times (Arinze Onuaku in the Commissioner’s Cup and Allen Durham in the Governors’ Cup), I’m not trying to be the best import, that’s not my goal. I just wanna play the best I can and win games.”
What has impressed coach Norman Black more has been the contributions of his local players, namely Baser Amer and Jared Dillinger, something he hopes would continue this conference.
“They’ve played a lot better than they played in the all-Filipino, and they seem to be excited of our chances this conference,” said Black.
Beating TNT, however, is easier said than done, Black stressed. The KaTropa are coming off a strong showing in the Philippine Cup, nearly eliminating the eventual champion San Miguel Beermen before losing a seven-game semifinal series.
“TNT is a real tough team, a good defensive team, so our defense is really going to have to be strong, it’s going to have to be solid, if we’re going to get a win against TNT.”
TNT starts its second conference under rookie coach Nash Racela by parading former NBA player Lou Amundson as reinforcement. Amundson, who once played for the New York Knicks, arrived after letting go former Best Import Denzel Bowles before the start of the conference.
Meanwhile, NLEX and Mahindra open the doubleheader at 4:15 p.m. in a battle of two winless teams.
Both the Road Warriors and Floodbuster are struggling in the early goings, losing their first two games.
NLEX has never won a game since a shock Jan. 5 win over TNT in a Philippine Cup out-of-town game in Angeles City, Pampanga, while Mahindra blew a chance to barge into the win column, blowing a six-point lead in regulation and fell 99-95 in overtime to Rain or Shine last Sunday.