NLEX tests SMB strength

John Bryan Ulanday (The Philippine Star) – July 23, 2021 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — NLEX tries to slay another giant in San Miguel Beer as the 46th PBA Philippine Cup braves on with stricter in-game protocols following a suspected COVID-19 case at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.

Fresh from a huge 94-75 rout of defending champion Ginebra, the Road Warriors (1-1) collide with the former five-time titlists Beermen (0-1) at 6 p.m. in a goal to climb to the upper half of the team standings early in the All-Filipino tourney.

The Gin Kings (0-1) open the curtains at 3 p.m. with hopes of claiming a quick bounce-back victory against the listless Blackwater (0-2).

The Road Warriors started their campaign with an 83-82 heartbreaker against Rain or Shine but came out on fire opposite the debuting Gin Kings with new anchor Christian Standhardinger, catching the latter off guard for a 19-point win.

And as much as coach Yeng Guiao wishes to do the same to the Beermen, it will be a steep mountain to climb as all teams including his wards are still adjusting under a closed-circuit set-up amid the pandemic.

“We’re in abnormal situation. You really cannot say if what you see now are the true strengths of the teams,” said Guiao, citing the hard pre-season preparations, including long trips outside NCR Plus for practices and strict home-gym-home routine for the ongoing games as among the challenges of the 2021 season.

“It’s a struggle in these abnormal times so we can still see adjustments for all teams in this first three or four games,” he added, tasking Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas to lead their bid for a second straight win.

New ace CJ Perez and returning six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo, whose debuts got foiled in a 93-87 loss to Meralco, will banner the Beermen. Terrence Romeo will sit out to rest his knee after an injury scare against the Bolts.

Meanwhile, the PBA has ramped up its protocols on team benches, including farther distances and designated seats with the players’ warmers, towels and water bottles after the league absorbed its first trial with the entry of some players in isolation.

The TNT Tropang Giga and Terrafirma are in isolation after four TNT players “were either positive or need to be confirmed for COVID-19 under government-approved league protocols.”

Their games including the Dyip’s tussle with Rain or Shine at 12:30 p.m. today has also been shelved.