NLEX’s Barometer, Meralco’s Return, and What to Watch on PBA Thursday

Photo via PBA Images

The 2021 PBA Philippine Cup will continue with a double-header gameday on Thursday at the Don Honorario Ventura State University Gym at Bacolor, Pampanga. The curtain raiser will feature the Terrafirma Dyip against the Meralco Bolts at 2:00 p.m., followed by a battle between the Blackwater Bossing and the NLEX Road Warriors at 4:35 p.m.

Here are a couple of things to watch heading into Thursday’s double-header.

Cruz is the barometer for NLEX

With the absence of Kiefer Ravena, Jericho Cruz’ offensive contributions have taken on a higher level of value for NLEX. He and Kevin Alas are the only players in the team who can switch gears from scoring to playmaking, and vice versa. But in two of the three games they lost last week, Cruz only had eight field goal attempts against NorthPort and seven against TNT.

If you watched NLEX’s double-overtime loss to Magnolia last September 8, we saw how good an aggressive Cruz can be in carving up the defense. When Alas fouled out in the fourth quarter, Cruz took over starting with a couple of strong drives to the rim that forced Magnolia defenders on their heels. With his defender anticipating another penetration and sagging off a bit, Cruz took advantage by pulling up for a jumper in isolation, giving the Road Warriors a four-point lead in the payoff period. But thanks to an Aris Dionisio step-back triple, the Hotshots forced overtime and leaned on the inside scoring of Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang to hack out the win. 

Still, NLEX presents different kinds of problems when Cruz is aggressive in getting his shots as it opens up a lot of opportunities not just for his teammates, but also for him. Cruz is one of the few big guards in the league who can both handle the ball well and overpower defenders. The Road Warriors need Cruz to be more assertive on offense, and he could do that by putting up more shots. NLEX currently owns a 4-5 win-loss slate, and they need to sweep their next two games against Blackwater and Meralco to sneak into the playoffs.

Photo via PBA Images

Bolts restart buildup towards playoffs

At this point, it’s almost a sure thing that Meralco will secure a seat in the playoffs. The team is sporting a 5-2 record, and its next assignments will be against Terrafirma tomorrow, followed by games against Blackwater, NLEX, and Ginebra. It’s highly probable that they will beat Blackwater, which will get them to the magic number of six in the win column. That should be enough to reserve them a playoff ticket.

The Bolts are coming off a lopsided defeat at the hands of the league-leading TNT Tropang Giga, a drubbing that saw their top two players, Chris Newsome and Mac Belo, combine for only 11 points and 7 turnovers. However, it’s a good thing that the team is not relying heavily on the scoring of their top two shot creators. In fact, Meralco is still holding the fourth-best offensive rating in the league (99.7) despite Newsome and Belo only averaging 12.9 and 11.7 points, respectively.

Meralco has ten players averaging at least five points this conference, which means that they can get points from almost anyone they field on the court. But they can’t win games if they commit turnovers all over the place. In that loss to the Tropang Giga, the Bolts had 23 miscues, which resulted in 32 points off turnovers for their opponents. Per Stats by Ryan, an advanced stats platform for Philippine basketball, Meralco is ranked third-worst in the league in terms of taking care of the ball (17.4 TOs) and second-worst in turnover percentage (TO%) with 20.2%. 

With four games left on their schedule, the Bolts can start their build-up towards the playoffs by figuring out how to trim their turnover count.

Advanced Stats are now available for Philippine basketball! Through Ryan Alba’s ‘Stats by Ryan’, you can now look at team and player advanced stats for the current 2021 PBA Philippine Cup (and the previous three seasons) via the Dribble Media website.

Check out this glossary for a list of the basketball advanced stats terminologies.

You can also contact Ryan via his Twitter handle (@_alba__).

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