By Jonas Terrado
(Mall of Asia Arena)
4:30 p.m. – TNT KaTropa vs NLEX
6:45 p.m. – Ginebra vs San Miguel
Renaldo Balkman and Justin Brownlee, who last month won a championship together, will be on the opposite sides of the spectrum this time as defending champion San Miguel and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel clash today in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Balkman and Brownlee have the same goals in mind going into the 6:45 p.m. match but they’ll have to do it as foes, not as teammates as San Miguel and Ginebra look to get out of their respective slumps and gain ground in the playoff race halfway into the eliminations.
San Miguel recently scored its first win after a 0-3 start with Balkman leading the charge in a midweek defeat of Phoenix while Ginebra fell to 1-4 last Friday to Meralco despite Brownlee’s return after replacing Charles Garcia.
The two buddies were weeks removed from leading Alab Pilipinas to the ASEAN Basketball League crown, responsible for leading the team’s turnaround after a 0-3 start since arriving in early-January.
They now hope to replicate that same success into their respective PBA squads, that is why Brownlee and Balkman will set aside their friendship, at least for two hours tonight.
“We were in the trenches about a month ago now we’re playing head-to-head,” said Balkman. “But it’s just every other game, man. I’m gonna prepare the same way as every other game and may the best man win.”
“It’s gonna be awkward at first but I gotta treat him as an opponent,” Brownlee said. “We got a handful with him. He’s an incredible player, he can definitely score the basketball, he’s a defender who can get his hands on the ball and I can’t wait for the challenge.”
The game also marks the first time in nine months that rivals June Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter meet on the court after the latter missed the last San Miguel-Ginebra matches with a pair of injuries.
San Miguel coach Leo Austria will also bank on Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos and rookie Christian Standhardinger while Ginebra counterpart Tim Cone goes with LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, Sol Mercado and Joe Devance.
Expected to overshadow the San Miguel-Ginebra duel is the 4:30 p.m. opener between TNT KaTropa and NLEX.
At presstime, TNT is tied for the lead with Rain or Shine at 5-1 after Friday’s mangling of Columbian Dyip but it may face a tough challenge in NLEX, which is hungry to register another victory and prove it can compete despite the absence of suspended cager Kiefer Ravena.
Ravena is serving an 18-month ban handed by FIBA after testing positive for banned substances during the World Cup Qualifiers. The PBA Board of Governors eventually decided to abide by the ruling.
The Road Warriors are carrying a 2-4 slate, needing a win to keep themselves within distance of other playoff hopefuls.