Starting their quest to break free from all the negativity that has clouded them recently, Petron will open their Governor’s Cup campaign as they take on Meralco for tonight’s main event at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Getting a boost from highly-touted reinforcement Elijah Millsap who is coming fresh off a stint in the NBA D-League, the Blaze Boosters will play their first game under new head coach Gelacio “Gee” Abanilla who replaced rookie tactician Olsen Racela.
Failing to go deep in the playoffs for the last four conferences, the 19-time PBA champions will look to get their first win against a Bolts squad who will parade returning import Mario West who had to quickly replace DJ Kennedy who failed to make it to the 6’5’’ height limit for imports in the season-ending conference.
The Blaze Boosters will welcome the return of two-time MVP Danny Ildefonso who is coming from a shoulder injury that kept him at the sick bay during most of the season and prized rookie June Mar Fajardo after strutting the national colors in the recently-concluded FIBA Asia tilt. Also making his debut for Petron in this game is burly front liner Doug Kramer whose service was acquired by Petron just this week in a trade that sent veteran center Dorian Peña to Barako Bull.
In this “sprint to the finish” conference, Petron needs to win as many games as possible in an elimination round that will have them playing nine games to have a good spot in the playoffs. Getting the “W” today against Meralco will have them on the right track in their quest for a blaze of glory, but what do they have to do to be able to accomplish the first step in their mission?
Let us take a look at some keys to winning for the Blaze Boosters.
- Get Elijah’s Groove Going Early: Elijah Millsap might probably be one of the most talented imports this conference. Petron must need to give him the necessary touches and plays early in the game for him to get his rhythm. He will play a vital cog for the Blaze Boosters this conference and just in his first game, he must get used to the PBA brand of basketball and get the feel of the game. Allowing him to get his groove early in the game will be very important for the team to have a big chance in nailing that first win.
- Attack the Paint: As compared to Meralco, Petron’s front line is far more superior with June Mar Fajardo, Danny Ildefonso, Doug Kramer and Arwind Santos. Gee Abanilla and his squad must take advantage of this one and make the Bolt’s front line work on defense by giving Fajardo a lot of plays in the post. Ildefonso’s return and Kramer’s acquisition will be a big factor as both men knows how to play effectively in the paint.
- Clamp Down on Mario and Mac Mac: – Mario West is a type of import who can get to the basket at will and score in bunches while Mac Mac Cardona, is still one of the best offensive players in the country. Petron needs to play lock down defense against these two potent scorers. The Blaze Boosters must limit their touches and make them bleed for their points because if West and Cardona get their scoring game going on early, Petron will be in a world of trouble for this game.
Prediction: Bias aside, I think Petron will start their Governor’s Cup journey with a win. Elijah Millsap will be big in this game and the team still has the advantage of playing against a Mario West that just flew in the country a couple days ago and is probably still adjusting to thecountry and his team.