IT TOOK some doing on its part, but Meralco is back in its familiar place in the PBA Governors Cup playoffs.
How the Bolts can sustain their rise that was deemed improbable a month ago is the main question when they tangle with the Phoenix Fuel Masters Wednesday at the start of their quarterfinals duel at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Due to its second place finish in the eliminations Phoenix totes a win-once advantage over seventh-ranked Meralco and it could advance outright to a first-ever semi-finals appearance with a win Wednesday.
Meralco, eyeing at least a third straight finals appearance in the tourney and made that possible by ending the elims with a four-game roll, is determined to at least force a decider.
"This is our fifth must-win game in a row so again we will treat it with a sense of urgency," said Bolts coach Norman Black on the eve of the match.
Battling a desperate team with all the tools like Meralco is precisely what Phoenix coach Louie Alas is wary of.
"I think the only advantage we have is the twice-to-beat," said Alas.
"Meralco is more experienced, two consecutive years in the finals, four wins in a row," added Alas. "Bukod sa Barangay Ginebra na No. 1 in my book, sila ang next toughest in this conference. That's why we need to play our best game."
Phoenix has already done that in their lone elims meeting last Sept. 19 and handily beat Meralco 96-86 as a result.
The loss was the Bolts' third straight in what would be a six-game slide, exacerbated by their participation in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup.
Then came a funk-snapping 108-105 squeaker over NLEX and Meralco built up more momentum with more wins over Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok, Rain or Shine and San Miguel Beer, the last via a 111-81 rout last Saturday.
When Ginebra foiled TNT's bid for a playoff with Meralco for the eighth and last quarterfinals berth the following day, the Bolts advanced outright.
Black said his team is not about to let the chance given it go to waste and would go all-out to at least live and fight another day.
"Handling their fullcourt pressure and controlling our defensive boards will be the keys to the game," stated Black.
One interesting sidelight is the duel between Phoenix import Eugene Phelps and Meralco counterpart Allen Durham, both of whom are locked in a tight battle for Best Import honors along with Ginebra's Justin Brownlee.(NC)