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Meralco, RoS open hostilities

Games today:
(Philsports Arena)
4:30 p.m. — Meralco vs Rain or Shine
6:45 p.m. — Converge vs NorthPort

Meralco’s string of five straight Final Four appearances came to a disappointing end in the just concluded Commissioner’s Cup as the team failed to get past the elimination round.

The Bolts look to have a strong start and set the tone early when the season-ending Philippine Basketball Association Governors’ Cup begins Sunday at the Philsports Arena.

Meralco takes on Rain or Shine at 4:30 p.m. right after the match between Converge and NorthPort, two teams which got busy on the trading table prior to the start of the conference.

The FiberXers and the Batang Pier clash in the main game at 6:45 p.m. as the two squads hope to get significant contributions from the new players they were able to pick up a few days ago.

Converge, which made deep playoff run after ending up fourth in the elimination round of the previous conference before losing in a best-of-three quarterfinals series against San Miguel Beer, will have new players coming in — Barkley Ebona and Jerrick Balanza.

Ebona was picked up in a trade with Blackwater for Mike Digregorio, dead shot guard RK Ilagan and athletic forward Tyrus Hill, while Balanza was acquired in a trade involving San Miguel Beer and NorthPort that sent Allyn Bulanadi to the Beermen and Paul Zamar and a future second round pick to the Batang Pier.

But aside from Zamar, the Batang Pier are looking forward to utilize former top overall rookie pick Joshua Munzon, who was shipped to NorthPort in a trade with Kevin Ferrer, now with Terrafirma.

With floor spacers like Arvin Tolentino and veteran Jeff Chan already a part of their nucleus, NorthPort felt the need to get a slasher which the team lacked after trading Jamie Malonzo to Barangay Ginebra and Munzon, a 6-foot-4 swing man, can fit that role.

PBA fans are also curious to see what the two new imports can bring to the table — Ethan Rusbatch of Converge and Marcus Weathers of NorthPort.

Rusbatch is a member of the New Zealand men’s basketball team that played in the 2019 World Cup and the 2023 World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

Weathers, on the other hand, is playing in his first professional league.

Originally San Miguel Beer’s choice as import for the East Asia Super League, Weathers came in as early as the Commissioner’s Cup, but since the EASL was pushed back to early March this year from its previous plan of holding it late last year, the import was put on standby until the Beermen decided to bring in ex-NLEX reinforcement Cameron Clark.

NorthPort, which couldn’t get previous import Jamel Artis on board, decided to tap Weathers.

If NorthPort and Converge opted to bring in new faces as imports, Meralco and Rain or Shine stuck with the tried and tested.

The Bolts will field K.J. McDaniels, who was recalled for another tour of duty to replace fellow National Basketball Association veteran Johnny O’Bryant in the midseason-conference Commissioner’s Cup, but could not still carry the team to the playoffs.

This time around, McDaniels will have a full conference to play with the Bolts, who will now have a healthier lineup.

Rain or Shine also tapped returning Michael Qualls, who previously played for NorthPort and led the team to an upset win over NLEX in the same tournament four years ago.

Curiously, the Road Warriors were then being handled by Guiao, who will now become Qualls’ coach at Rain or Shine.

But Rain or Shine will kick off the Governors’ Cup with one key player less as young forward Leonard Santillan will miss the game against Meralco owing to a sprained ankle.

“He sprained his ankle during Thursday’s practice. He was supposed to be our import-stopper but we have to adjust the past two days in practice.”

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