PBA Commissioner’s Cup preview: No more power shortage for Meralco Bolts

After a disappointing Philippine Cup, the Meralco Bolts are looking to recharge and make it back in the playoff hunt.

While the Bolts have made strides as a franchise over the years, including back-to-back Governors’ Cup finals appearances, they cannot seem to sustain their momentum in the All-Filipino conference.

“Every damn Philippine Cup, we get our a** kicked,” said Jared Dillinger after a loss against TNT on January.

Meralco stumbled its way to a 4-7 record in the recently concluded Philippine Cup, with two of their wins coming against cellar dwellers in Blackwater and Kia.

Will the Bolts finally make it back as a playoff contender this upcoming conference? Let’s examine.

STATISTICS FROM LAST CONFERENCE

Initially playing at a frenetic pace in the last conference’s first five games, the Bolts lost their footing by dropping their offensive output from 100.4 points per game to a paltry 88.3 points per game. The Bolts led the league in three-point attempts and made 34.8 percent on 32.1 attempts per game. They also shot well at the charity stripe at a league-leading 76-percent clip, and turning it over only 13.09 times a game despite their drop off on their production on offense. They ended the Philippine Cup tenth in points per game at 89.3.

Their defensive doldrums didn’t help either as they struggled mightily on that end, evidenced by their atrocious point-differential of -4.2 (second-worst in the league). They had problems in closing out defensive sequences by being dead-last in steals and rebounds (4.8 steals per game and 42.6 rebounds per game) and placing second-worst in blocks (3.0 per game). Returning import Arinze Onuaku would definitely provide the interior presence the Bolts sorely need to address their glaring needs.

NOTABLE PLAYERS

Swingmen Nino Canaleta and Chris Newsome, and floor general Baser Amer led the charge for Meralco in terms of scoring (12.2, 11.9, and 9.9 points per game respectively). Amer and Newsome are expected to create more on offense as they tallied the team’s best assist numbers (5.2 assists per game for Amer, 4.7 assists per game for Newsome) in the previous conference.

Canaleta and Jason Ballesteros, who were just added to the roster this season, proved to be worthy acquisitions for the Bolts as they contributed for the team’s overall production, albeit in different ways.

The veteran shooting forward led the scoring charge, shooting well from the three-point area at 35.3% while heaving 6.2 attempts. Ballesteros, on the other hand, led Meralco in rebounding with 7.4 boards per game average.

Key injuries to Ranidel de Ocampo, Jared Dillinger, and Cliff Hodge tremendously affected the Bolts’ Philippine Cup campaign. Hodge played in just five games due to a knee injury suffered in a game against Phoenix. The energetic forward was an integral part when Meralco posted its best offensive (123.6) and defensive (97.7) ratings. They are all expected to be back in the upcoming conference.

After recently playing for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in the CBA, Arinze Onuaku has rejoined the squad for the Commissioner’s Cup. The burly six-foot-nine forward out of Syracuse had his first tour of duty for the Bolts in 2016, leading the team to the semifinals where they lost to the Alaska Aces. He won the league’s Best Import award in the same conference.

PREDICTIONS

With the Bolts getting back some key players from injuries, expect Meralco to make a deep run in the playoffs this conference. Ranidel de Ocampo will be back in harness after missing the entire Philippine Cup, but it would take awhile before he gets himself in game shape.

With steady improvements from guys like Amer, Newsome, and Tolomia, the Bolts could wreak havoc from the backcourt and continue their fast-pace offensive game they instituted in the first few games last Philippine Cup.

Comments