The Star and Meralco face off today not only for the solo lead but also to move closer toward the twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Season 42 Commissioner’s Cup at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Hotshots and the Bolts, both toting similar 7-2 win-loss cards, battle for the top spot at 7 p.m. right after the opening match between NLEX and Alaska at 4:15 p.m.
The Aces are searching for a win that will put them closer toward the next round while the Road Warriors are just fighting for pride as the team of head coach Yeng Guiao remain winless after nine games.
Star head coach Chit Victolero said one key to stretch their winning streak to four games is to stop Meralco by limiting the production of Bolts’ import Alex Stepheson.
“It will be a crucial game since both teams have chances for the top two spots. We just need to tighten our defense inside and limit the activity of their import especially in getting offensive rebounds and second chance points,” said Victolero.
“Perimeter defense is very important also to prevent their guards from penetrating and creating their shots. We expect a defensive game since both teams are in top four in defense and points allowed, so mental toughness will be key a factor for this game,” he added.
Stepheson, averaging 22.3 rebounds and 17.7 points for Meralco, will be tested by Hotshots balik-import Ricardo Ratliffe.
Rattliffe, who replaced import Tony Mitchell, returned with a bang for the Star as he notched 37 points and 22 rebounds in their 107-97 win over TNT KaTropa last May 10.
Victolero hopes Rattliffe can hold his own against Stepheson while Gilas Pilipinas member Jio Jalalon can continue his strong showing after impressing PH 5 head coach Chot Reyes in the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA) Championship.
“Jio’s experience in Gilas will help us a lot because the experience and maturity he gained in the last SEABA makes him a better player in terms of decision making and as a team player,” Victolero said.
The Bolts, on the other hand, are coming off an 86-94 loss to the GlobalPort last May 10 and coach Norman Black hopes his wards can get back to their winning ways.
“It is an important game for both teams because a win will move you one step closer to the twice-to-beat advantage,” said Black.
“Since Meralco and Star have been winning mainly due to solid defense, my feeling is that good offensive execution is going to be a big key to pick up a win,” he added.
Meanwhile, Alaska tries to snap a four-game slide against the dangerous NLEX squad.
“No excuses for us tomorrow, we need to be great,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton, whose team is holding a 4-4 card.
“We are going to treat this game like a must win. We need to get back on track and play excellent for 48 minutes. They have nothing to lose,” he added.
NLEX’s latest loss was handed by San Miguel Beer last Friday, 108-114.