What ails Petron?

Meralco's Gabby Espinas foils Petron's Alex Cabagnot's drive. (Photo courtesy of the PBA)

The Petron Blaze Boosters sank to their worst defeat of the season last night, a 105-83 demolition at the hands of the Meralco Bolts in a game where they trailed by as many as 28 points and hardly played any defense. That's now five straight losses for the team this season, counting the three straight they lost to Talk 'N Text in the Philippine Cup semis where they squandered a 3-1 lead.

Like in their conference opener against Barangay Ginebra last Sunday, the Blaze Boosters found themselves trailing in this game by double digits at the half. But unlike last Sunday, when Nick Fazekas led a spirited comeback that tied the game with 3.9 seconds left, this time around Petron didn't even bother staging a rally as the lead never dipped below double digits in the second half. It was 78-62 after three periods and the Blaze Boosters could get no closer than 14 points in the fourth.

Petron's transition defense was terrible all night long. I've seen grade school PE classes play better defense.  The Bolts were dead last in fastbreak points in the Philippine Cup, yet they poured in 25 fastbreak points against Petron, including eight over the first five minutes of the fourth period. Meralco recently acquired point guard Paul Artadi to push the ball more in transition, but this wasn't all Artadi's doing. The Blaze Boosters, normally a stingy defensive team, were a step behind all game long.

Credit must also be given to the Bolts' defense, which limited Petron to 44% shooting. With the Blaze Boosters missing so many shots (including 3-of-16 from three-point distance) and the Bolts winning the rebounding battle 58-40, it was easy for Artadi, Chris Ross, Mac Cardona and Mark Macapagal to get out in the open court against a slow-reacting Petron defense.

And what is up with Arwind Santos? After scoring only eight points against Ginebra, the Spiderman could only cough up two points against the Bolts, a meaningless basket in the fourth period when the outcome had already been settled. I realize his shots were bound to go down in an import-laced conference — Fazekas has taken an average of 25 shots in his first two games — but that isn't reason enough to go 1-for-8. Is he having trouble getting into the offensive flow now that he's playing small forward?

Fazekas has been averaging 35 points and 17 boards, and generally he plays like the NBA veteran that he is: smart, efficient and takes high-percentage shots. He played a big role in the Blaze Boosters' comeback against Ginebra, but against Meralco he was oftentimes the only player who had any offensive rhythm. Take away his 14-for-25 field goal clip, and Petron's shooting is a paltry 18-for-57 or 32%. But the sad reality in the PBA is, if a team isn't winning, the first knee-jerk reaction is usually to replace the import, no matter how good his numbers are.

Strangely enough, Petron also struggled in last year's Commissioner's Cup, when the franchise still carried the San Miguel name. The Beermen lost seven of their first eight games before beating Rain or Shine in a no-bearing game to finish last with a 2-7 mark. Ira Brown suited up for the first two games, leading SMB to a 1-1 record, before being replaced by David Young. The six-four Brown averaged 24 points before getting the pink slip.

Fazekas has put up much better numbers over his first two games, of course, but it would certainly help his job security if Petron doesn't go 0-3. It doesn't get any easier, though, for the Blaze Boosters, as B-Meg is up next on Feb. 19. The Llamados held off Barako Bull, 88-86, last night, to take temporary first place in the leaderboard with two wins. Petron better figure it out quickly, because going 0-3 in a one-round robin conference where four teams will be ousted won't look too good.

E-mail: sid_ventura@yahoo.com. Twitter: @Sid_Ventura.

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