It’s on to the PBA Playoffs!!!

PBA fans got a short respite from the regular season grind with a quickie All-Star Show in Pangasinan this weekend. It was a wonderfully orchestrated fan-friendly extravaganza which certainly help boost the popularity of our local basketball league. I have always articulated that in order for the PBA to be able to maintain a strong connection with the fans, more effort must be made to bring the players within arms length of the fans. This noble gesture – of putting up a show in the province, of providing free clinics for the kids, free workshops for game officials, creative CSR events, meet-and-greet for the fans, dream games with the league’s top stars, and more – will undoubtedly bring good karma to the league. This good karma will translate to more interest among fans, more audience, more noise, and finally, a better, more vibrant PBA. Kudos to Comm Willy Marcial and his dynamic board. Way to go!!!

As of this writing, the last 2 slots for the next round of 8 aren’t cast in stone yet. With the last 2 matches still to be played, 4 teams are still in the running for a playoffs stint. Still, the way things are shaping, I am coming up with a prediction on the placements, with a fearless forecast on how the quarterfinals will work out.

The Phoenix Elite Fuel Masters nailed the first spot in the elimination round through a thrilling journey leading to a 9-2 slate. Next came the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, whose unexpected loss to cellar-dwelling Blackwater Elite, relegated it to the 2nd place with its 8-3 slot. Both Phoenix and Rain or Shine got their twice-to-beat bonus as result of their league-best credentials.

The next four slots will be taken by Barangay Ginebra, TNT Katropa, the favored San Miguel Beermen, and the Magnolia Hotshots.

Of the 4 teams angling for the last 2 quarterfinal slots, I foresee NLEX and Northport surviving the race. Say goodbye to the Alaska Aces and the Colombian Dyip. Their best just wasn’t good enough.

That said, here’s how my crystal ball sees how the playoffs roll:

Phoenix Elite Fuel Masters vs Northport Batang Pier.

Phoenix – with league-favorite Calvin Abueva, the sniper Matthew Wright, reigning ROY awardee Jason Perkins – will capitalize on the twice-to-beat bonus to nose out the peaking Northport pier pirates. Northport will rely on their speed, starring Stanley Pringle, Sean Anthony and Nico Elorde; and their late surge will give them the confidence to compete. Phoenix’ long lay-off will be a negative factor for them, as they will take time to get their bearings. Fortunately, they own a twice-to-beat bonus, which will give them enough breathing space. Phoenix actually needed a lucky break against Northport in their regular game, winning only via a questionable referee’s call despite the absence of Northport’s main man, Stanley Pringle.

Rain or Shine Elasto Painters vs NLEX Road Warriors.

ROS’ Elasto Painters will sweep off the Road Warriors easily, with veterans Gabe Norwood, Raymond Almazan and Beau Belga providing free lessons in playoff maturity. This powerhouse team has not lived up to expectations in the past seasons due to some internal problems. With the air cleared of these ugly in-house intramurals, expect ROS to get the step forward.

Barangay Ginebra Kings vs Magnolia Hotshots.

This series will be a seesaw battle, with players’ injuries becoming a potential game-breaker. Ginebra will rely on iron man LA Tenorio, the exciting Scottie Thompson, the huge combination of Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar, plus a rabid ‘hometown’ crowd to match newly-crowned Governor’s Cup champ Magnolia’s gritty Marc Barroca, banger Paul Lee and the sizzling Jio Jalalon. I expect the ka-barangay boys of Ginebra to eke another exciting down-the-wire finish here.

TNT Ka Tropa vs San Miguel Beermen.

The big storyline here is Terrence Romeo. Romeo was booted out by TNT who deemed him too individualistic for comfort. San Miguel embraced the opportunity to tame this wild, yet extremely popular talent, despite being themselves too loaded at the guard slot. This series will answer the question: who got the better of that trade? Terrence will have an axe to grind against his former team. All is presumed well at the TNT camp now. Can we say the same for San Miguel? I have Jayson Castro’s Katropa moving forward to the Semis. Should San Miguel lose, Terrence’s market value will suffer a big hit.

What about you? Who you got?

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