By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
MIDDLING team Phoenix Fuel Masters shoot to go above the .500 mark when they go up against the Meralco Bolts in the opening game of the Valentine’s offering of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
At the seventh spot currently in the season-opening PBA Philippine Cup with a 4-4 record, the Fuel Masters are out to get a victory over the struggling Bolts (2-6) in their scheduled 4:30 p.m. match to put them back in the black and position themselves for a shot at finishing in the top six and avoid a twice-to-win disadvantage if ever they manage to advance to the next round.
As per tournament format, only the top eight teams at the end of the elimination round move on to the next phase with the top two enjoying a twice-to-beat edge over the two lowest teams while the middle teams battle in a best-of-three series — #3 vs. #6 and #4 vs. #5.
Phoenix won in its last game, showing much resilience to edge the TNT KaTropa, 74-72, last Wednesday.
The Fuel Masters dug deep in a match that saw them play catch-up for much of the time and were boosted by the late-game surge by sophomore Matthew Wright to notch the all-important victory.
Mr. Wright, who drained a key three-pointer late in the game and made the pass for what turned out to be the game-winning shot by Doug Kramer with three seconds to go, top-scored for Phoenix with 16 points.
Veteran Jeff Chan added 11 markers while rookie Jason Perkins had eight points and 10 boards for the Fuel Masters, who have seen a promising start to their campaign turn iffy after going 2-3 in their last five games.
“We have three games left in the elimination round and anything can happen. So we’re not taking opponents lightly and will try to stay on top of our game to advance,” said Mr. Wright following their last victory.
For Phoenix coach Louie Alas, their win over TNT was huge in line with their goal to finish in the top six at least.
“That’s our goal really, to finish at least fourth to sixth to give us a chance in a best-of-three playoffs,” said the coach even as he underscored that they will still try to go as high as they can in the standings as the elimination round draws to a close.
Meanwhile, looking to save their slowly slipping campaign are the Bolts, who are currently riding a three-game losing streak.
The most recent of Meralco’s losses came at the hands of the NLEX Road Warriors, 87-85, last Friday, with rookie sensation Kiefer Ravena draining the winning basket with little time left on the clock.
The defeat was all the more disappointing as Meralco had its grip on the game but just could not sustain and finish it.
Nico Salva came off the bench to lead the Bolts with 20 points with Chris Newsome finishing with 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Following the Phoenix-Meralco match is the main game encounter at 7 p.m. by TNT (4-5) and GlobalPort Batang Pier (3-4).
Both teams are coming off losses in their previous assignments and are out to get back on the winning track to give their campaigns a boost in the homestretch.