By JONAS TERRADO
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
4:30 p.m. – NLEX vs Blackwater
7 p.m. – San Miguel vs Phoenix
The 18-month FIBA ban on star rookie Kiefer Ravena is something the NLEX Road Warriors hope to use as motivation as they take on the winless Blackwater Elite tonight in the resumption of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ravena is set to miss the Road Warriors’ 4:30 p.m. match after the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas announced the suspension for testing positive for a banned substance which came from a pre-workout drink during a doping test after a game in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers last February.
Though the SBP is clarifying whether the punishment will be carried over to club duties, the Road Warriors and Ravena aren’t taking any chances of making things complicated.
“FIBA has been very lenient. Yun na nga, nabawasan at nabawasan na yung sentensiya tapos pag pinilit ko pa na ganun baka mapatagal pa or mapasama pa,” said Ravena, whose suspension began retroactively last Feb. 25 when the test was performed and will last until Aug. 24, 2019.
NLEX coach Yeng Guiao, however, has pledged his full support on his young guard even as the team tries to break out of a 1-4 start in the midseason conference against a desperate Elite squad which has yet to win after six matches.
“I’d like to assure the fans that we will keep putting together the best team that we can,” Guiao said. “We will strive to make it a championship team with our without the suspension of Kiefer.”
Import Arnett Moultrie, JR Quinahan, Larry Fonacier, Alex Mallari, Cyrus Baguio and new addition Dave Marcelo are expected to have their share filling the big shoes left by Ravena.
Blackwater will parade returning import Henry Walker for the first time after struggling in the first six games despite double-double numbers from Jarrid Famous.
Walker will attempt to replicate what his did in last season’s Governors’ Cup when Blackwater reached the quarterfinals, coming to close to upsetting No. 1 seed Meralco.
Likely to overshadow the NLEX-Blackwater is defending champion San Miguel’s crack at entering the win column in the 7 p.m. match against Phoenix.
The Beermen could put themselves in a more delicate situation if they can’t see off the Fuel Masters and may further jeopardize their attempt at winning a second straight crown and a closer shot at the Grand Slam.
Coach Leo Austria’s crack core composed of June Mar Fajardo, Chris Ross, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot, rookie Christian Standhardinger and import Renaldo Balkman lead the Beermen’s bid to end a 0-3 start.
Phoenix went into the All-Star break with high morale after beating Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in double overtime last May 20.
Import Eugene Phelps will be tasked to play a massive role for the Fuel Masters.