April 04, 2017

Struggling Mahindra pins hope on new import in duel versus Star

UNBEATEN Star guns for a fourth straight win and a share of the lead when it goes up against Mahindra Wednesday in the PBA Commissioner's Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

But in order to tie idle Alaska at the helm, the Hotshots must first deal with a scrappy Floodbuster crew now reinforced by an unfamiliar factor in new import Keith Wright.

Wright comes in as replacement for James White, who has averaged 30.5 points, 18.5 rebounds and a league-high 2.5 blocks for Mahindra, but reportedly strays from shotcaller Chris Gavina's instructions of taking it strong inside instead of settling for mid-range jumpers.

Enter Wright, listed at 6-8 who has seen action for the Austin Spurs and Westchester Knicks in the NBA D-League but has also played in Poland and Sweden after going undrafted in the 2012 NBA draft.

The 27-year-old one-time teammate of Jeremy Lin at Harvard totes a decent mid-range jumper but is more productive on the defensive end with his rebounding and shot-blocking skills.

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At 240 lbs, Wright can also match up better with the other heftier imports.

Wright being a relative unknown is what bothers Star coach Chito Victolero.

"We don't know who will be playing as their import tomorrow, so we have a hard time preparing for them," he said.

Mahindra sure could use whatever help it could get as it only has a win to show after four games.

"We understand what's at stake for this game. It's highly competitive in the league right now and it's important to stay in stride with everyone else," said Gavina.

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"I feel we have stuck to our defensive identity the past couple of games. We just need to do a better job at reducing our lapses on the defensive end and being more efficient on the offensive end. That takes confidence."

What should give the Floodbuster extra boost is the fact they managed to give perennial contender Alaska one big fight in their game last Wednesday before bowing 92-98.

In what would prove to be his last game, White paced Mahindra with 30 points and 14 rebounds but only Mark Yee, LA Revilla and Gary David provided support with top local scorer Alex Mallari getting limited to seven points.

A more balanced effort from his chargers is needed by Gavina. "Our guys need to understand that when they are on the court we need contributions, whether it be making open shots or helping us get stops or rebounds," he said.

"Whatever the case may be, we need all our guys to leave an imprint on this game. Our competitive fire has shown through at practice and hopefully we can carry that spirit with us tomorrow against Star."

Star should also be on a high after escaping NLEX's clutches 105-103 in a game last Friday where the Hotshots led by as many as 21 points early but had to rely on Jio Jalalon's buzzer-beating baseline jumper to keep its unblemished record intact.

Tony Mitchell has remained solid for Star with averages of 23 points and 16 rebounds, but the continued contributions from the likes of Allein Maliksi, Jalalon, PJ Simon and Mark Barroca are needed for the side to realize its immediate goal.

"My players are ready and we know that we need to play hard to get the W," said Victolero. "We need to be aggressive on both ends of the floor, match or surpass the intensity and energy of Mahindra in order for us to win this game."