By Jonas Terrado
The absence of ace center Raymond Almazan could make things difficult for Meralco to finally contend in the PBA Philippine Cup.
Almazan is expected to miss at least the first five weeks after undergoing surgery on his left knee, leaving the Bolts without their best big man for the start of the opening conference.
He suffered the injury during Game 3 of the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals against Barangay Ginebra San Miguel last January which contributed heavily to the Bolts’ eventual defeat.
“Hopefully we will have at least six games before he finally comes back,” Meralco coach Norman Black said of Almazan, who averaged 10.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 29 games with the Bolts last season.
Almazan was acquired from Meralco prior to the start of last year’s Commissioner’s Cup in mid-May.
Meralco’s first six games are against Magnolia (March 15), Blackwater (March 20), Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (March 22), Rain or Shine (April 1), Phoenix Pulse (April 15) and Alaska (April 19).
If that timetable is met, Meralco will be in for a tricky schedule as it will face last year’s Philippine Cup finalist Magnolia, Governors’ Cup winner Ginebra and teams that reached the semis of the previous All-Filipino in Rain or Shine and Phoenix.
The Philippine Cup has always been a waterloo for Meralco despite being a consistent playoff team in import-laden conferences.
Meralco has never reached the Philippine Cup playoffs since the 2014-15 season, going 11-33 in the last four stagings of the PBA’s most important tournament.
That record is a far from the combined record of 77-60 in import-laden conferences during the same four seasons, making three finals appearances in the Governors’ Cup with import Allen Durham.
The Bolts are hoping to make up for Almazan’s absence with veterans Baser Amer and Chris Newsome and incoming sophomore Bong Quinto.