2019 PBA Philippine Cup preview: Can the Meralco Bolts sustain surge without Durham?

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With the terrific Allen Durham anchoring the middle, the Meralco Bolts made it to the postseason of both the 2018 Commissioner’s Cup and Governors’ Cup.

The same success, however, eluded them in last year’s locals only tournament as they ranked at the bottom of a four-way tie for the two final playoff spots. With no reinforcement to bail them out, how will coach Norman Black’s wards fare in the first conference of the PBA’s 44th season?

HIGHLIGHTS FROM LAST CONFERENCE

After dropping five of their first six games in the Govs’ Cup eliminations, most fans thought that Meralco was done for the year. The team, however, went on an astonishing four-game winning streak to clinch the seventh seed and sneak into the postseason. Their inspired surge did not end there, as they eliminated the twice-to-beat, second seeded Phoenix Fuel Masters in the Quarterfinals.

The team extended that streak to seven wins, when they surprised Alaska in Game 1 of their best-of-five semis affair. The Bolts would eventually run out of steam and lose the next three contests, but they did establish the longest winning streak of the conference.

NOTABLE PLAYERS

Now that the reported deal for the second overall pick of the 2018 Draft Bobby Ray Parks seems to have been put on hold, coach Black will once again rely on his nucleus of young and seasoned players.

The back court duo of Chris Newsome and Baser Amer remain as the cornerstones of the franchise, while it will be refreshing to see the likes of Ranidel de Ocampo, Cliff Hodge, and Jared Dillinger back to 100 percent after dealing with their respective injuries.

With a chance to go big by nabbing Abu Tratter or Javee Mocon with their fifth pick in the 2018 Draft, coach Norman Black opted to go small by picking streaky scorer Trevis Jackson. The team also  got a steal in the second round, when they plucked former Letran Knight Bong Quinto at number 14.

The team also acquired grizzled vet Gabby Espinas from free agency, but he is currently rehabilitating an injury and won’t be available to play until February.

TEAM OUTLOOK

It’s no secret that the Bolts fare better in import-laden conferences due to Durham’s individual brilliance and familiarity with coach Black’s system. With many of their rivals tinkering with their rosters, Meralco once against faces a daunting task ahead in the All-FIlipino tourney.

An acquisition of a young and possible franchise player like Parks will certainly boost their chances, but the questionable timeline of his PBA availability would thwart the team’s plans of using him right away. The team’s best chances still fall on whether or not Newsome and Amer can take that giant leap into superstardom.

Newsome’s all-around play suggests that he has the higher upside between the two, as he normed an impressive stat line of 14.27 points, 5.42 boards, and 5.15 dimes last year.

On the other hand, Amer — who is at the center of a potential Parks swap —  showcased his playmaking prowess last season with averages of 11.91 markers, 4.06 rebounds, and  4.41 caroms.

(Images from PBA)

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