5D394DB9 CDEC 4771 B99E 229923E1F8C6 1024x704 - Norman Black: Meralco a strong contender with healthy Almazan
Raymond Almazan will get better and stronger, Meralco coach Norman Black said. (PBA Images)

ANGELES CITY–Meralco head coach Norman Black believes that a fully conditioned Raymond Almazan will play a major role in their bid for a first-ever PBA title in the shortened season. 

The 6-foot-8 Almazan has recovered from a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee and returned in time for Meralco’s campaign in the 45th Philippine Cup under a bubble setup. 

Coming off a successful rehab, the 31-year-old lanky center has been buckling down to work to regain his usual pace. 

“The good thing about Raymond is he has enthusiasm, he has energy. And he’s a leader. So, I’m expecting that he is going to be our inside force before this conference is over,” said Black.

“He’s gonna be the guy that if we’re gonna win a championship or have a chance of winning a championship, he’s gonna be right in the middle,” he added. 

The grand slam-winning tactician could only look back and wish how Almazan could have altered the outcome of the Meralco versus Ginebra titular showdown in the 2019 PBA Governors’ Cup. 

With the best-of-seven series tied at 1-1 l, the Gilas Pilipinas standout hurt his knee early in Game 3 won by Ginebra. He played through injury in the next game and had to sit out in Game 5 where the Gin Kings lifted another trophy at the expense of the Bolts. 

But now that he has Almazan back, Black has high hopes of steering Meralco to its first PBA title in franchise history. 

“If you think back, last conference we had a chance of winning a championship until he got hurt. So that’s how I feel about Raymond. He gives me a chance to win a championship. That’s what he basically does.”  

Almazan made his presence felt in his longest playing time so far in the bubble on Friday night. 

The former NCAA MVP from Letran pumped in 11 points, nine rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in more than 26 minutes of action to help the Bolts improve to 3-2. 

“I thought he played really strong tonight. I knew he was a little bit winded but I left him out there longer than I have in the past and I thought he really contributed to the team defensively and offensively,” said Black. 

“I think he’s only gonna get better.” 

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