by Jonas Terrado
Games Today (Cuneta Astrodome)
4:30 p.m. – NorthPort vs Blackwater
6:45 p.m. – Magnolia vs Phoenix Pulse
Surprise early contenders NorthPort and Blackwater parade their new players when they face off in a key PBA Commissioner’s Cup duel at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Sol Mercado, Kevin Ferrer, and Jervy Cruz debut for the Batang Pier in the 4:30 p.m. opener against an Elite side that will have Jameel McKay as replacement for the ailing Alex Stepheson.
Magnolia shoots for a third straight win after a 0-2 start opposite Phoenix Pulse in the second game of the Petron Saturday Special set at 6:45 p.m.
The NorthPort-Blackwater tussle is expected to be fierce with both teams jockeying for position in the race for the top two spot in the quarters.
NorthPort holds a 6-1 record while Blackwater has a 5-2 mark. The top two teams after the elims gain a twice-to-beat advantage.
Mercado, Ferrer and Cruz were obtained by the Batang Pier after shipping star guard Stanley Pringle to Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in a trade last Tuesday.
The three didn’t see action in Wednesday’s 107-105 overtime win over Rain or Shine when the Pido Jarencio-coached Batang Pier courageously came back from a 25-point deficit despite eight players in uniform.
Aside from the absence of the three former Ginebra players, NorthPort was also dealing with injuries to Jonathan Grey and Nico Elorde.
Meanwhile, McKay will make his return stint in the PBA, this for Blackwater after he was tapped to replace the hulking Stepheson.
The Elite were forced to part ways with Stepheson, who was diagnosed with an intestinal bacteria that forced him to miss the team’s 127-106 loss to the San Miguel Beermen last week at the Mall of Asia Arena.
McKay, 26, last saw action for Phoenix in the 2017 Commissioner’s Cup.
Serving as a subplot to the match is the battle of two top rookies in NorthPort’s Robert Bolick and Blackwater’s Ray Parks Jr.
Bolick has risen into one of the league’s top youngsters with averages of 17.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists while Parks has been responsible for the Elite’s rise with 23.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals.