by Jonas Terrado
Meralco Bolts coach Norman Black welcomed the team’s current 17-day break despite concerns of rust that may affect their play in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
The Bolts have put their miserable performance in the Philippine Cup behind after starting the midseason conference with six victories in seven games, all but assured of qualifying for the playoffs for the fifth straight time in an import-laced tournament.
They beat the Blackwater Elite, 102-91, last Sunday and won’t be seeing action until May 3 when the Bolts play the Phoenix Fuel Masters at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Next week’s All-Star games in Cagayan de Oro City, Lucena City and Cebu City have also contributed to the long hiatus.
“I had no clue what we were gonna do with 17 days off,” Black said. “When you’re playing well and you’re winning, the last thing you want is a 17-day break.
“But we welcome it, and this is a good feeling going into the break knowing that probably we have qualified for the quarterfinals,” added the veteran mentor.
After the Phoenix game, Meralco faces Globalport on May 10 before taking on Star on the 24th and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on the 28th to complete their elimination round campaign.
For some of the players, the break is also added time to heal some injuries like the one suffered by Cliff Hodge who injured his calf muscle causing him to miss the last three matches for the Bolts.
Nine-year veteran Jared Dillinger is also dealing with some minor issues on his Achilles which saw him go in and out of the lineup since last season’s Governors’ Cup.
“I need it. I’m happy for that break,” said Dillinger. “We’re a little banged up, so we’re happy to get these next two weeks off. We’re going to stay practicing, but for us guys who are kind of hurt, it’s going to be a much-needed break for us.”
The presence of import Alex Stepheson has been credited mostly for the Meralco turnaround as it gave the team help in the shaded lane that was sorely missing during the 3-8 showing the previous conference.
Baser Amer has come to his own as a reliable point guard, even drawing praises from Black.
Last Sunday, bruiser Kelly Nabong surprised everyone with his offensive play, helping Meralco erase an eight-point deficit entering the fourth to beat Blackwater while athletic forward Chris Newsome and Dillinger have been consistent since the start.