July 20, 2017

Durham, Bolts test mettle of Elite

BLACKWATER is out to get off to a good start in the PBA Governors Cup, but Meralco may prove to be a very big stumbling block.

Which between the Elite and Bolts could start putting their recent woes behind them would be known Friday when they open up their campaign in the season-ending tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The victor joins opening day winners Phoenix anf NLEX and Meralco is favored since Blackwater would continue to miss its top two players in Gilas member Mac Belo and Art dela Cruz, still to fully recuperate from a knee injury.

Still, the Elite are determined.

"We will do our very best to get a win and have a good start in this third conference," said Blackwater coach Leo Isaac on the eve of the match.

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"We are looking forward to getting started this conference," countered Meralco coach Norman Black.

"Our focus will be on maintaining the improvement we made on defense last conference while trying to be more efficient on the offensive end of the court."

Some lessons should have been learned from their respective Commissioner's Cup campaign where Blackwater lost four of its last five games and wound up 11th while Meralco finished fifth but bowed to eventual finalist TNT KaTropa 2-1 in their quarterfinals duel.

To salvage their season, which also saw them finishing a dismal 11th in the Philippine Cup, and at least reprise their runnerup finish to Barangay Ginebra in last year's edition of this same tourney the Bolts have brought back Allen Durham to reinforce the likes of Chris Newsome, Baser Amer, Jared Dillinger and Cliff Hodge.

Enroute to winning the Best Import award in the same tourney last year, Durham averaged 31.3 points on 57.4 percent field shooting, 14.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists.

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"Having Allen Durham back in the team gives us a lot of optimism and should give us a big lift," said Black.

Pitted against Durham is newcomer Trevis Simpson, a 6-foot-3 wingman who once starred at University of North Carolina Greensboro and is coming off a stint in France.

"Scorer siya, inilalaro niya small forward or shooting guard," Isaac has said of the 25-year-old. "May malaki na kami (in JP Erram), kaya kailangan naman namin isang wing, 2-guard and he fits the bill."

Based on practices and the Elite's tuneup games Erram is steadily returning to form after missing action for almost a year due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in the same tourney last year.

With the likes of KG Canaleta, Mike Digregorio, Mark Cruz and Kyle Pascual also showing fine form Blackwater may yet pull off a surprise.