MOST may view Meralco's match against Blackwater Friday as the calm before the storm for the Bolts in the PBA Commissioner's Cup.
Black's squad is set to meet red-hot Alaska on Sunday, TNT next Friday and Rain or Shine on June 24.
After all, the Elite are already out of the running for a slot in the playoffs while the Bolts should be using the match as brace for a veritable killer stretch coming up.
Meralco coach Norman Black refuses to believe things are as simple as that, maintaining his team cannot take it lightly against one with nothing to lose.
"It's important that we play our best basketball versus Blackwater," said Black on the eve of the match set at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Indeed, Blackwater, which is mainly using its remaining elimination round games as part of their preparations for the season-ending Governors Cup, could again pull off a shocker like what it did against Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok last week.
The Elite could even sparingly use Henry Walker, like what they did in a 94-104 loss to Rain or Shine, to help his injured shoulder get better faster.
The immediate stakes, therefore, are much higher for the Bolts since a third straight win would boost them alongside third-running TNT and assure them of a quarterfinals slot alongside early qualifiers Rain or Shine, Alaska and the KaTropa.
Meralco's hopes of a top two finish and its corresponding reward of an automatic semi-finals berth would also be kept alive.
"It's a big opportunity for us to stay in the upper half of the standings," was how Black expressed his team's goal at the moment.
The match will also give the Bolts additional momentum and brace them for a four-game swing in nine days to ends their elimination round assignments.
Black maintains his side's sights are firmly fixed on the task at hand. "Our focus right now is Blackwater," he said.
As has been the case in Meralco's recent wins over Barangay Ginebra and Phoenix and, before those, against defending champion San Miguel Beer, NLEX and Columbian, making the necessary stops would be crucial.
"We will continue to focus on defense, especially versus their outside shooters, as well as work hard to keep them off their offensive boards," was how Black bared his basic gameplan.
As is his wont, Arinze Onuaku would anchor the Bolts defense while also taking his turn on offense alongside Nino Canaleta, Ranidel de Ocampo, Baser Amer and Chris Newsome.(NC)