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Red-hot Bolts seek top spot, quarterfinal bonus

CHRIS Newsome and the Meralco Bolts are focused on grabbing the top spot in the quarterfinals of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PBA

The race to the top is heating up.

After pulling off a stunning victory over top seed Magnolia, Meralco will take a step closer to the No. 1 seed when it squares off with dangerous Phoenix Super LPG in a crucial encounter of the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Action kicks off at 4 p.m. with both the Bolts and the Fuel Masters looking to break their 7-2 deadlock and boost their bid for a twice-to-bid advantage in the quarterfinals.

Meanwhile, NLEX will fight for dear life when it faces also-ran Converge in the first game at 8 p.m.

The Road Warriors, who fashion a 3-6 slate, will be parading their third reinforcement of the conference in DeAndre Williams Baldwin with the hope of salvaging what’s left in their campaign.

After shuffling their coaching staff in the off-season, the Bolts responded mightily and now have a handsome chance of emerging as the top seed going into the playoffs.

In fact, Meralco is coming off a huge 85-80 win over Magnolia in an out-of-town game in Iloilo City over the weekend that boosted its confidence going into this all-important battle.

Should Meralco prevail over Phoenix and cap its eliminations campaign with a win over Terrafirma on Friday, they will end up tied with Magnolia with a 9-2 win-loss card but will take the top spot via the win-over-the-other rule.

But the Fuel Masters also have an important business to take care of.

Aside from atoning from their previous 96-117 loss at the hands of San Miguel Beer on Christmas Day to begin the new year with a win, the Fuel Masters are also looking to formalize their claim of a twice-to-beat advantage.

After Meralco, the Fuel Masters will clash with TNT Tropang Giga in their last game of the eliminations on Sunday.

Against Magnolia, Meralco was impressive with its new import Shonn Miller erupting for 33 points and 22 rebounds while the local crew of Chris Newsome, Bong Quinto, Anjo Caram and Allein Maliksi stepping up defensively.

Meralco coach Luigi Trillo believes that they found a gem of an import in Miller, but he has to be careful against a tough-defending Fuel Masters side.

“For one, he cannot fall in love with his three-point shooting and outside shots, which for me, needs to be developed. But he has a decent range,” Trillo said, referring to the 30-year-old Miller, who has big shoes to fill after replacing the high-scoring Zach Lofton.

Winning over the Fuel Masters, however, will not be easy.

Phoenix, for one, will be welcoming two key players in their first game of 2024 in Jason Perkins and Raul Soyud.

Fuel Masters head coach Jamike Jarin said their long break would either be a boon or bane for them heading into the crucial stretch of the eliminations.

“That’s the good thing of having a long break as we were able to rest our bodies, including our injured players” said Jarin, whose wards last played 15 days ago.

“Jason will be returning coming off a hip injury and Raul is good to go after being sidelined by a hamstring injury.”

“Now, our worry is rustiness. Meralco has been playing consistently and has been out of action as it is also competing in the EASL. On the other hand, this is our first game coming off a long break.”


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