Diehard PBA Fans Ask Questions for the Playoffs

As we enter the homestretch of the coveted 2019 PBA Philippine Cup, the race favorites are slowly jockeying themselves into position. It is still the same line-up of heavyweights who are filling the leaderboard for the quarterfinals, except for one. Leading the standings going into the playoffs, there is a surprising challenge posed by newcomer Phoenix Pulse Fuelmasters, and it’s making fans look up.

The race for the last of the top 2 positions is still hotly contested. Mathematically, as of this writing, only 3 teams remain in the running for the coveted slot. These are: the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, the TNT Ka Tropa, and crowd favorite, Barangay Ginebra. Phoenix took the first slot with a masterful win over the defending champs, San Miguel Beermen, last Saturday. With the loss, the Beermen bowed out of contention for the second slot.  Whoever gets the other top slot will gain the privilege of a twice-to-beat series in the quarterfinals. Who will the gods favor this time?

(all pics courtesy of pba.ph)

Indeed, it has been a very exciting regular season for Phoenix fans. The PBA’s newest darlings have gone eyeball-to-eyeball with the best of the rest. And it has done so with a gutsy kill-or-be-killed attitude that is winning the fans over. Today’s Phoenix five are the closest team you can think of to challenge the old Ginebra’s ‘never-say-die’ philosophy. Their 9-2 win-loss slate does not fully articulate the tough journey the team has taken, with 8 out of 11 games decided by 4 points or less, or by overtime.

And then there is the growing maturity demonstrated by PBA’s other new teams: with the NLEX Road Warriors now at 6th spot; Columbian Dyip presently occupying 7th place; and Northport Batang Pier still in contention for a playoffs stint. Even Blackwater Elite has sprung some surprises against the heavyweights.

(all pics courtesy of pba.ph)

But today, we take a look at 5 key issues that PBA fans would like answered with the coming playoffs. And we start off with the most successful franchise in PBA history, the San Miguel Beermen.

1. Are the San Miguel Beermen still as dominant? Will the arrival of Terrence Romeo help the SMB campaign? Or was TNT right in trading away Romeo?

For the past 4 years, no team has been as dominant in the PBA as the San Miguel Beermen. Of the 12 conference titles in those 4 years, the Beermen has annexed 6 of the crowns, for an eye-popping 50% championship rate! Barangay Ginebra would come a distant 2nd with 3 crowns, while TNT, Rain or Shine and Magnolia would seize 1 each.

Man-for-man, San Miguel still has the strongest line-up in the league today. In fact, even their second team would still give any team a run for their money. That is, if only they were up to it.

(all pics courtesy of pba.ph)

But San Miguel has taken some early bashing in this tournament. To many pundits, the 4 regular season losses – despite the addition of crowd-favorite Terrence Romeo – have shown that the once-dominant machine may need some oiling right now. The unexpected losses could mean many things: a lack of cohesion perhaps, or a lack of focus, or the absence of a sense of urgency among the players.

Added to this, there were prior reports that 7 of Terrence’s former teammates in TNT KaTropa had petitioned that he be traded for lack of ‘chemistry’ skills. In another team, he had a well-publicized altercation with his coach, Pido Jarencio. Given this ‘colorful’ reputation, people are wondering which version of Terrence has reported for duty with the Beermen: the old one with the noted notoriety, or a reformed model of Terrence minus the reported selfish streak and immaturity.

Note that Terrence is joining an already loaded guard corps composed of Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross, Marco Lassiter, Von Pessumal and Paul Zamar, all of whom will be competing for those all-important playing time. The challenge to rein in this wild spirit will rest on the shoulders of San Mig’s management, coach Leo Austria, and their silent leader and fellow Visayan, June Mar Fajardo. If they succeed in getting Terrence to dance to the same beat, then San Mig’s glorious flight will soar to even far greater heights. If not, Terrence’ reputation will suffer a big hit.

(All photos courtesy of PBA.ph)

2. Are the Phoenix Pulse Fuelmasters for real? Will their formula to winning in the regular season take them to the top?

The Fuelmasters recently lost a heartbreaker to the resident crowd heart-throb, Barangay Ginebra. They then bounced back with a masterful demolition of the fearsome San Miguel Beermen. With the 2 contrasting, yet equally sterling performances, the team not only gained the respect of their peers, they also wowed the crowd with their determination to win and their pug-nosed approach to defense. This team simply refuses to turn over and die despite a clear disadvantage in talent and sheer size.

(All photos courtesy of pba.ph)

What they lack in height, they cover up with sheer numbers. Despite being the shortest team in the league, they are tops in Rebounds. Whenever the ball flies, all members of the team will be seen scrambling hard for those all-important rebounds.

The Fuel Masters are also tops in Fouls, which means they will not allow any easy way to the basket. Coach Alas has instilled in the team a gutsy no-nonsense defensive outlook; and coupled with the arrival of that nasty-but-nice Calvin Abueva, the steady growth of last year’s Rookie of the Year Jason Perkins, the constant sniping of Matthew Wright and RJ Jasul, and the blue collar approach of new acquisition Alex Mallari, the team’s ‘no-guts-no-glory’ culture is slowly gaining the fans’ approval.

(All photos courtesy of pba.ph)

3. Will Magnolia finally wake up from its slumber and pose a challenge? Or was their 2018 Governor’s Cup championship a mere fluke?

It’s not too late for the last conference champs to make a run for the crown. After taking 3 straight losses flush in the chin at the start of the season, the Magnolia Hotshots have hunkered down to work. Currently, they are hanging precariously at 8th place, having just lost another heartbreaker to the Ginebra Kings. But the way they are pacing their conditioning, it looks like Coach Chito Victolero’s wards will be ready come the playoffs.

Based on their performance in the overtime loss to Ginebra, the team is still as dangerous as ever. Down by 15 in the 2nd quarter, the Hotshots clawed back to force the overtime, before finally losing by 4. Against Phoenix, they were comfortably ahead for all of 47 minutes of play, before a couple of lucky breaks gave the game away.  In fact, the Hotshots could easily be toting a 7-1 slate, instead of its current 3-5, with 4 of their 5 losses by margins of only 5 or less.

(all photos courtesy of pba.ph)

But having tasted the sweetness of a championship last season, expect the seasoned veterans led by Mark Barroca and Paul Lee to will the team back into contention for the crucial matches up ahead. Magnolia is aiming to get at least a 6th spot in the elimination round in order to avoid a ‘one-loss-and-you’re-out’ card.

4. Will Barangay Ginebra’s ‘never-say-die’ persona manifest itself once again in their present campaign?  

Ginebra’s legion of fans were not disappointed with the last 2 electrifying wins eked out by the Gin Kings. Against league-leading Phoenix, Ginebra trailed for 3 quarters, before finally catching up in the final 3 minutes. Fighting fire with fire, the 2 teams threw haymakers at each other, before Ginebra’s old ‘never-say-die’ spirit – egged on by a huge ‘hometown’ crowd – kicked in.

With the league’s newest ‘ironman’, LA Tenorio, providing court leadership; the high-flying Scottie Thompson providing the excitement; and the pair of Japeth Aguilar and Greg Slaughter causing a big traffic jam in the shaded lanes; the Ginebra Gin Kings have a good chance of taking the second Top 2 bonus. Given the possibility of a triple-tie for the second bonus slot among the Ginebra, Rain or Shine and Talk N Text, the Gins’ higher quotient will pull it through.

(All photos courtesy of pba.ph)

5. Which teams will complete the Final 8?

With just 11 games left to finish the elimination round, 5 teams are ensured of stepping forward to the next round. The Phoenix Pulse Fuelmasters have gifted themselves with a first-ever top elimination finisher bonus. Rain or Shine, TNT and Ginebra all have a chance at the 2nd bonus slot; while San Miguel is already assured of landing in the 3rd to 6th range.

Six teams are still in contention for the last 3 slots in the quartefinals: NLEX, Magnolia, Alaska, Columbian Dyip, Meralco and Northport. The race is so tight and unpredictable that there could still be 4 teams tied for the last 3 slots. Who squeezes in? Who lucks out?

(All photos courtesy of pba.ph)

We’re about to find out the answers to these questions – and more – in these last 11 regular season games in the weeks ahead.

(All photos courtesy of pba.ph)


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