Macapagal’s biggest test

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Meralco’s Mark Macapagal has played only three games in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup and scored a total of two points. He’s taken one triple and missed. But because Macapagal has won four of the last five Shootouts, he’s back in the fray in the PBA All-Star Weekend in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

There are four events in today’s action – the Shootout, the Slam Dunk Contest, the Obstacle Challenge and the Rookies versus Sophomores contest. The All-Star Game is scheduled on Sunday.

Macapagal is picked to win a fifth crown. Last year, he outdueled Chris Tiu and Jvee Casio in the three-man championship round to capture his fourth title. Also-rans were MacMac Cardona, Gary David, Marcio Lassiter, John Wilson, L. A. Tenorio, Ronjay Buenafe and Larry Fonacier. The year before, Tiu took the crown, outshooting Nino Canaleta and Casio in the final round. Macapagal didn’t make it to the title round that year. But in the three previous contests, Macapagal was untouchable from beyond the arc.

This year’s battle will a big test for Macapagal. It’s not only because he’s hardly had playing time. The rust will be evident. But it’s also because nine challengers are ready to crown a new king. Tenorio and David are back from last year’s duel. Tenorio is hitting 33.3 percent from three-point territory this conference and David 48.5 percent. Other competitors are Canaleta at 44.1 percent, L. A. Revilla at 25.9 percent, Brian Heruela at 27.8 percent, Terrence Romeo at 42.2 percent, James Yap at 25 percent, Arwind Santos at 13.2 percent and retiring star Jimmy Alapag who hit 32.2 percent last season. Withdrawing from the competition are 2013 champion Tiu and Dondon Hontiveros.

From current statistics, David, Romeo and Canaleta should crowd Macapagal in the race to the top. Of the 10 competitors, the three are the only three-point bombers shooting at least 40 percent this conference. Canaleta opted out of the Slam Dunk Contest because of a sore knee but he’s definitely participating in the Shootout.

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Curiously, there are seven other players shooting at least 40 percent from triple range this conference but aren’t in the Palawan contest. They are Leo Avenido at 59.3 percent, Allein Maliksi at 48 percent, Jayson Castro at 48 percent (with 24 makes of 50), J. R. Buensuceso at 46.2 percent, Jonathan Uyloan at 42.3 percent, Paul Lee at 41.9 percent and Ranidel de Ocampo at 40 percent. Any of those players could give Macapagal a run for his money.

Romeo has knocked down 19 triples so far this conference, three more than David and four more than Canaleta. He’s the leading local scorer with a 21.8 average, a fraction ahead of David’s 21.0. What may go against Romeo is his jump-shooting style. If he keeps jumping to jack up those threes, his legs may not be the same when the last rack comes around. David also puts a lot of leg behind his shot but not as much as Romeo. Canaleta, in contrast, is a semi set-shooter who draws strength more from his wrist than his legs.

Yap, Tenorio and Santos will be playing for pride. They’re resident PBA superstars and they’ll do their best not to be outshone by upstarts. Two darkhorses are Revilla and Heruela, representing the league’s expansion franchises. It’s their first time to perform in an All-Star atmosphere so they may be a bit distracted by the glitz.

From all indications, Macapagal will be dethroned today but by whom is the question. The new king could be Canaleta or David or Romeo. Take your pick.

The other intriguing event is the Slam Dunk Contest featuring Justin Melton, Rey Guevarra, Japeth Aguilar, J. C. Intal and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser. Melton and Guevarra shared the championship last year, scoring the max in the first, second and championship rounds. They’re back to settle unfinished business and claim solo ownership.

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Canaleta took his fifth slam dunk crown the year before after clinching in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2012. KG was ready to annex another championship this year but has begged off because he wouldn’t be able to give his 100 percent for the fans with a sore knee. Chris Ellis, Calvin Abueva and Aguilar competed last year and none went to the championship round. Abueva also joined in 2013. Ellis, the 2013 king, was set to rejoin today but cancelled late due to a swollen foot. Abueva would’ve also enlisted but will arrive in Puerto Princesa only tomorrow in time for the All-Star Game as he had to attend to a daughter in the hospital. Intal and Gabe Norwood battled Canaleta in the final round of the 2012 edition. Canaleta scored 100, Intal 99 and Norwood 93 in a close fight.

Norwood will always be remembered for posterizing Luis Scola with a thundering dunk at the FIBA World Cup in Spain last year. The three things that make Norwood such a spectacular dunker are his athleticism, hops and length.  He was in the original list of competitors but has also withdrawn. The key factors that will decide this year’s winner are creativity and degree of difficulty. Because Melton isn’t even six-feet tall, he’s a natural favorite. Just to be able to dunk is already a feat for someone his size. Aguilar has tentacle-like arms and his windmill is impressive because of his wingspan.  Intal, a darkhorse, not only can elevate as if on a pogo stick but his ability to suspend himself in midair is a wonder. Then there is Ganuelas-Rosser whose boundless energy fuels his exciting antics on the court.

It won’t be cakewalk for Melton or Guevarra although they’re the favorites. The key is not to be conservative. You’ve got to gamble with something different and innovative. The fans are waiting to hold their breath and sit on the edge of their seats. They want to be entertained by the league’s most explosive dunkers. They won’t be disappointed.

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