NLEX prepares for Meralco duel; Cone wary of ‘early’ Kings-Hotshots clash

NLEX prepares for Meralco duel; Cone wary of ‘early’ Kings-Hotshots clash

NLEX’s frenetic win over Barangay Ginebra set both squads on challenging quarterfinal paths. —PBA IMAGES

NLEX coach Frankie Lim did some math on the side on Sunday night and learned that the Road Warriors will have about four days to prime themselves for Meralco and their best-of-three quarterfinal duel in the PBA Philippine Cup.

Whether that stretch is going to be enough for his charges, however, is something Lim couldn’t be certain of. And for a good reason.

“We’ll have a lot of thinking to do about Meralco,” he said in Filipino on the heels of a 76-72 escape act against Barangay Ginebra that night at Ninoy Aquino Stadium in Malate, Manila.

“Especially after [the Bolts’] win over San Miguel. It seems that their game is changing, particularly their bigs,” he added. “That’s one key factor that we’ll have to look at.”

Meralco, hobbling throughout this all-Filipino, dealt the red-hot Beermen their first loss in the tournament a couple of nights ago in a duel in Batangas City, putting an end to the vaunted club’s 10-game tear and denying the defending champions what could’ve been the first sweep of the elimination phase in the modern PBA.

And as Lim pointed out, it was the Bolts’ front line that made such a victory possible. Cliff Hodge, the club’s tireless forward, put up 20 points and 13 rebounds to lead the way against a June Mar Fajardo-led side eager to end its own elimination round schedule with a bang. Center Raymond Almazan was just as big, especially with his 10 boards, while swingmen Bong Quinto and Allein Maliksi chipped in with double-digit scores of their own.

But Robert Bolick, the NLEX top gun who topscored with 25 in that conquest of the Gin Kings, pointed out that Meralco’s strength shouldn’t be measured solely on that road victory.

“Meralco’s tough,” he said. “I think they’re the only [squad] who beat all the strong teams in this conference. And they’re a good defensive team, too. Sure they may be undermanned without Aaron (Black) … but I know a lot of guys out there will be stepping up.”


Meralco, which touts a 6-5 win-loss mark, outlasted Rain or Shine in overtime, dismantled the crowd darlings and beat Magnolia in its own defensive game all before stunning San Miguel. Like Lim, Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone could still barely process the predicament his squad just put itself in.

The loss to the Road Warriors put the Gin Kings’ on a collision course with corporate sibling Magnolia—a face-off that the seasoned mentor never thought would come this soon.

“I mean, if we could’ve avoided Magnolia we certainly would have. But we couldn’t,” he told reporters on his way out of the venue. “We would have [wanted] facing them later in the tournament, and not having to knock each other out this early.” “But you don’t really have control over that.”

Making things doubly heavier for Cone is the fact that Maverick Ahanmisi hurt his right shoulder in the dying moments of the game—a worrying sight for the Gin Kings, who are still coping without injured forward Jamie Malonzo.

“I was running for the rebound and then (Tony) Semerad ran, pulled my arm back. That’s what happened. My arm kind of went numb,” the crafty guard said.

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“I guess we’ll see in the next couple of days how much better it gets. But I’m just going to keep icing it and do treatment,” he added. INQ