For the past four conferences, the campaigns of the Petron Blaze Boosters have become synonymous to mediocrity and inconsistency.
On any given day, they can play like a well-oiled machine, clearly living up to their potential. And at the same time, they can implode and fall like dominos (as we’ve seen recently). This has been the way of the game for the Blaze Boosters. They can dismantle every team when they want to and they can go to a self-destruct mode when the situation goes tougher.
The last notable playoff run by the Blaze Boosters was way back in the All Filipino Conference of the 2011-2012 season where they figured in an epic seven-game semifinal against arch rivals Talk N Text. They eventually lost, 3-4 after seizing a 3-1 series lead. Since then, Petron has never had a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs. It has recently all been about failure and controversies that have surrounded the team, leading many to coin the term “Petronovela”
that described their never-ending struggles.
With the Governor’s Cup about to unfold, Petron will have another shot to redeem themselves, exorcise all the ghosts of their troubled past and live up to the lofty expectations set upon them. Will they finally grab this golden ticket and erase all the bad memories and circumstances that have clouded the team in the recent conferences? Are they all on one page now and are they all willing to help each other and step up to the challenge? Are they tired of being tagged as a star-studded team who can’t go deep in the playoffs? Will Petron finally play up to its full potential? Will they end all the mediocrity and failures in a blaze of championship glory?
During the mid-conference break, the Blaze Boosters made several player movements to bolster their line-up for the season-ending conference.
First off, Petron parted ways with two-time Best Player of the Conference winner Anthony “Jay” Washington in a three-team deal that landed them rookie forward Jason Deutchman from Global Port. Washingtonm who has been a part of the team since 2008 expressed his disappointment with the limited minutes he was getting and finally asked for a trade.
The 19-time PBA titlists also dealt veteran center Dorian Peña to Barako Bull in exchange of Doug Kramer. Peña who was a direct hire by the franchise back in 2000 found himself once again in the Barako camp after a short return to the Blaze Boosters. Petron also re-activated pesky point guard Paulo Hubalde who is coming off from a fresh stint with newly-crowned ASEAN Basketball League championsm the San Miguel Beermen.
But the biggest move that the team went through was the coaching reshuffle undertaken by almost the entire San Miguel Corporation. This movement resulted in assistant coach Gee Abanilla being elevated as their new tactician and rookie head coach Olsen Racela moving to San Mig Coffee as Tim Cone’s new deputy. In the said coaching rigodon, Petron also welcomed the return of former head coach Siot Tancquincen who will now serve as team manager and Koy Banal from the Coffee Mixers as one of Abanilla’s assistant coaches. They also acquired the services of American coach Todd Purves who has had a two-year coaching stint with the Indonesia Warriors as their consultant.
Petron, who was hobbled with problems in their reinforcements in the last Commissioner’s Cup is parading the electrifying Elijah Millsap, the younger brother of NBA veteran Paull Millsap. The 26-year old swingman who is coming off a fresh stint in the D-League playing for the Los Angeles D-Fenders averaged 17.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.7 steals in 44 games. Millsap’s versatility and ability to play multiple positions will be a big help for the Blaze Boosters who relied heavily and saw success with a similarly versatile Renaldo Balkman in the early stages of the last Commissioner’s Cup. A very good athlete who can attack the rim at will and bang bodies inside, the 210-pound Millsap will add toughness to the team’s frontline.
To be able to go far in this coming conference, Petron, having one of the most loaded squads in the league today, needs to take advantage of their strengths such as the following:
- Deep Wing Rotation – Petron probably has the deepest swingman rotation in the PBA, having Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz and Ronald Tubid who can all play multiple positions on both ends of the floor. The three forwards who all have different styles of play bring a lot of problems to the opposition and the Blaze Boosters need to use them right to utilize their strengths.
- Bolstered Front Line – Petron’s front line that was decimated with injuries and inconsistencies in the past conferences got a huge lift with the arrival of Doug Kramer. Add this to the fact that a more confident June Mar Fajardo is set to come back after a stint with the national team in the recently-concluded FIBA-Asia tilt. The Blaze Boosters will also welcome their returning leader Danny Ildefonso who is coming off a conference lay-off after recovering from a shoulder injury. The benefit of Jason Deutchman’s acquisition remains to be seen but in some of their tune-up games, the rookie forward has shown some potential.
- Millsap’s Intriguing Potential – In the current crop of imports that will banner the Governor’s Cup, Elijah Millsap is probably one of the most talented. In two tune up games that he participated, the 26-year old swingman made quite an impression when he scored more than 30 points in both games. His athleticism and ability to energize the squad will be a huge boost to Petron’s quest this conference.
But just as they need to maximize on their strengths to have a great Governor’s Cup campaign, Petron must also need to man-up and work on their weaknesses:
- Inconsistency Among Key Players – Petron’s struggles in the recent conferences was mostly attributed to the struggles of several key players like Alex Cabagnot and Arwind Santos. These two stars whose games took a notable dip need to wake up from their slump and play like they used to when they pulled off a miracle in 2011, upendeding Talk N Text for the Governor’s Cup title.
- New Coach, New System – In this season alone, the team underwent three coaching changes. From Rajko Toroman to Olsen Racela to Gee Abanilla. This has got to be a record of sorts for a PBA team when it comes to coaching changes. It is tough for the players and for the whole squad to adjust to new systems conference after conference. This recent change that saw Abanilla being appointed as the new coach might bring problems to the team but that remains to be seen. Will it work out for good or will it be another decision they will regret? That question will be answered as the conference unfolds.
- Composure, Composure, Composure – Petron is a talented squad that can dismantle any team on any given night. They can build a huge lead for the first three quarters but they have this penchant of faltering under pressure when the game goes down the line. They have lost a number of winnable games because of their collapse at end game. This is one glaring weakness that needs to be solved for them to come up with more wins this conference.
Petron, with all the talent they have and with a highly-touted import in the person of Elijah Millsap, should end the eliminations somewhere around the 6-3 win-loss mark. They can win all of their nine games but there are things that they need to iron out and fix.
Will they go deep in the playoffs? It remains to be seen but the Blaze Boosters will be more than hungry to end all the misery that has surrounded them.