MANILA, Philippines -- The Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters were impressive in their first game of the PBA Philippine Cup as they overwhelmed the Meralco Bolts, 116-98, Monday at the Angeles University Foundation Gym in Angeles City, Pampanga.
Matthew Wright led the charge for the Fuel Masters, putting up 36 points in the victory. But it was a complete team effort as three other players reached double-digits, with Justin Chua and Jason Perkins adding 17 points each.
"I was excited. It's been a long layoff," Wright said of finally playing a competitive game after several months.
Wright said the Fuel Masters were "ready to go" in March, only for the PBA to suspend all of its activities due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. It took seven months before the league got on track again, after securing the approval of the government and putting together a "bubble" in Clark, Pampanga.
Phoenix was one of the teams that immediately impressed in the PBA's return, as the Fuel Masters showed no signs of rust in giving interim head coach Topex Robinson a winning start to his career.
As impressive as they were in their first game, Wright is confident that the Fuel Masters can reach an even higher level once they welcome back Calvin Abueva and Alex Mallari into their active rosters.
Mallari is still recovering from an injury, while Abueva is waiting for his suspension to be lifted by the PBA.
"Even though we looked good last night, just think how much better we can be when Calvin and Alex come back," said Wright. "As long as they can come in and blend with us, the sky's the limit for us."
PBA fans have been waiting for months for Abueva's return, and his teammates in Phoenix share their eagerness. "The Beast" was allowed to join the Fuel Masters in the bubble, and has been taking part in their practices and scrimmages.
After their win against Meralco, Robinson said Abueva has been the "best practice player" for the team.
"You know, Calvin is Calvin," said Phoenix veteran JC Intal. "Last night, he was so happy. He even brought food for us. You will feel his energy on and off the court… We're very excited to have him back."
"I think in a few more games, we'll see him na, hopefully," he added.
Wright added that Abueva's energy is "contagious."
"He's the vocal leader on our team, also the emotional leader," he said. "He can impact the team just from his presence, just being out there."
PBA commissioner Willie Marcial has remained non-committal, however, when pressed for an update regarding Abueva's status.
In an appearance on the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum on Tuesday morning, Marcial said Abueva is still in the same situation as he was when he entered the bubble.
"May tinatapos po si Calvin na requirements. 'Pag natapos po niya 'yun, tingnan po natin. Uulitin ko po ito po ay kakabuti po ni Calvin, ng PBA at ng lahat," said Marcial.