18 June 2011

Defense is an Easy Pot-Shot to Take

Bolts Defense
The Meralco Bolts took a long break in preparation for the third conference in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), and though they have had their fair share of injury and ennui-related troubles, an improvement is expected from them. And should things go according to script, the Bolts will then finish the season with a winning record since the trade that landed the team Solomon Mercado and Reynel Hugnatan.

And despite Coach Ryan Gregorio's insistence on some of the more dour Bolts fans needing to "take some Prozac or something," and regardless of whether or not Mercado thinks it will take some time for the team to be at full strength, the Bolts have to figure out a way to right this ship. Right now.

That's a result of the problems you create when you go "right now" instead of "whenever it's best." The Bolts did well to acquire a star scorer in Mercado while retaining a backcourt partner in Macmac Cardona, but the immediate fear following the trade was that the team may have given too much up on dumping their first picks. The fear heightened when you toss in the second-round picks.

Toss in the realization that the deal didn't really address what Bolts was lacking most (a defensive presence, at any position), and you have worry, worry, worry. But at least the Bolts are going to win now with comebacking import and prolific scoring, Champ Oguchi, right?

Nope. They lost Cardona to an injury right now (strained calf muscle injury). Unserviceable also, perhaps for a conference, is Chris Ross (anterior cruciate ligament) and free agent pick-up Chris Timberlake (strained calf muscle). Marlou Aquino is also injured, but he won’t be making immediate impact really even if he is not hurt.

Despite winning their first game against Petron Blaze Boosters, thanks to the inspired performance of Mark isip, it's hard not to draw comparisons between Bolts initial struggles and the struggles that face (and, let's face it, continue to face) the Air21.

After acquiring veteran players in exchange for their three fist picks in last year’s draft, the Express were able to move up to the Final Four in the second conference. They eventually lose to Talk N’ Text and there were a million different nightly reasons why. Such is the problem when you deal with such small sample sizes, because the Bolts are like those Express in the differing ways they put together those losses. One night Mercado might have eight turnovers or shoot poorly. Another night the helpers like Dondon Hontiveros may have a tough game from the floor. Cardona could miss 10-of-12 shots. Or Danny Seigle might decide to take over, end up missing the mark and miss 17-of-28 shots of his own.

Then, before you know it, four losses. Perhaps seven , after the elimination round.

The overriding issue here is still defense. The Bolts gave up an average of 21 points per quarter in the first 36 minutes to Petron, but then allowed their opponents to score 37 in the fourth quarter.

Replacing starting "center" Asi Taulava with Reynel Hugnatan in the first part of the last quarter didn't help. But we're still curious to hear why Taulava was not given more time to thwart those offensive rebounds from the Boosters in the payoff period.

We can't stray too far from defense, though. It's an easy pot-shot to take, but both Renren Ritualo and Hugnatan often appear as if they want that on-paper roster to win the games by itself, and they often can't be bothered to follow shooters to the corner or step in to help after Mercado or Isip gets beaten off the dribble. Both players can lean on their offensive gifts to help the Bolts pull away from lesser lights, but unless both men are getting to the line that sort of offense-first game is a tough sell once you factor in the amount of mid-range jumpers they take.

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