ANTIPOLO—NorthPort’s 2-0 start in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup may look like a rarity given its status as a middle-of-the-pack team at best.
But Sunday’s 113-103 win over the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters at Ynares Center here marked the first since last season’s Philippine Cup that the Batang Pier have started this way and Arvin Tolentino believes they can make good things happen moving forward.
“Hopefully, we can keep up this momentum going into our next game,” Tolentino said after scoring a career-high 35 points, capping it with a left-handed slam over Rain or Shine veteran Gabe Norwood in the waning moments.
The Batang Pier, however, will have their first big test of the season-opening tourney on Friday at Smart Araneta Coliseum against the Magnolia Hotshots, who were playing the Phoenix Fuel Masters at presstime.
A win will put NorthPort in a strong position as among the early contenders to make the eight-team playoffs. A loss, however, may bring back memories of the tailspin the Batang Pier experienced in that Philippine Cup.
After that 2-0 start, NorthPort would go on to lose six straight and eight of the last nine afterward to be booted out of playoff contention with a 3-8 record despite the presence of Robert Bolick and Jamie Malonzo, who are out of the team now.
“It’s a tough assignment, but we will do our best,” Tolentino said of the perennial contender Hotshots.
For NorthPort to avoid a similar nightmare, it will need Tolentino to sustain his strong early-season form and for import Venky Jois to once again produce impressive numbers like the 30 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists he had against Rain or Shine.
“To be honest, we didn’t come into the conference with any expectation,” Tolentino said in Filipino. “We really prepared for the season and we committed ourselves to give our best every game.
“We have Venky as import, and he is an amazing guy with a good attitude. And I think that’s the reason why we are 2-0 this conference.”
Joshua Munzon is another reason for NorthPort’s early success as the former No. 1 draft pick posted 15 points, four rebounds and three assists. The former Terrafirma mainstay struggled during the latter part of the previous season after being acquired in a trade.
Also key were sophomore center JM Calma and rookie Cade Flores, who has brought energy and physicality through two games of his young PBA career.
On the flip side, Rain or Shine is searching for ways to get out of a 0-2 start after missing rookie Keith Datu and falling behind by 19 at one point.
Import DaJuan Summers scored 32 points, but the Elasto Painters fell short despite another comeback attempt in the fourth. INQ