Interesting PBA semis match-ups

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All roads now lead to the Philippine Basketball Association’s (PBA) Philippine Cup semifinals, starting with today’s face off between the Alaska Aces and the Global Port Batang Pier at the Mall of Asia Arena. Tomorrow, defending champions San Miguel Beermen (SMB) will tangle with the Rain or Shine (RoS) Elasto Painters in their own best-of-seven semis series also at the MOA Arena.

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By a stroke of luck, we’ll be treated to two very interesting semis battles that hardly anyone saw coming. Global Port’s entry into the semis round, a first in its franchise history, came as an enormous surprise. Although a formidable force, other highly touted squads like Talk N’ Text, Ginebra San Miguel and Purefoods Star were all ranked higher than Batang Pier. Alaska, Rain or Shine and San Miguel are frequent qualifiers in the semis.

Alaska versus GlobalPort. This is an intriguing match-up between a highly systematic crew and a freewheeling gang. The Aces have a very organized and technical approach to the game. Offensively, they run a sleek motion game that involves several passes. Point-production is shared by many, with four Aces averaging in double figures (although all under 20 points) – Vic Manuel (16.36 ppg), Calvin Abueva (13.36 ppg), Sonny Thoss (11 ppg) and Javee Casio (10.36 ppg). Contributing at least six points per game are Cyrus Baguio, Chris Banchero, RJ Jazul, Dondon Hontiveros and Eric Menk. Now that’s a murderers’ row. On the other hand, GlobalPort heavily relies on its one-two punch tandem of Terrence Romeo (23.92 ppg) and Stanley Pringle (21.08 ppg). Jay Washington, Joseph Yeo, Doug Kramer, and Keith Jansen all average below ten points per game. The Batang Pier loves to play one-on-one with either Romeo or Pringle. But stopping their offense is easier said than done. Global Port is also the most trigger-happy team in the league from behind the three-point arc, with 30.8 attempts per game, making 9.7 treys (also the most this conference).

But Alaska is one of the best defensive teams today. It will be interesting to see how they will defend against Romeo and Pringle. Will they encourage more so plays by playing “no-help” defense? Or will they (Aces) limit their touches and let the others handle the scoring chores? Either way, it’s imperative for GlobalPort to get more fingers in the scoring pie for a chance at the Finals. Washington and Yeo are both capable of pitching in double-digit points.

One advantage the Aces have is their inside game. Thoss, Abueva and Manuel are efficient inside operators. Doug Kramer and Billy Mamaril will have their hands full defensively against Alaska.

Alaska’s transition offense poses another challenge for GlobalPort, even when both teams like the up tempo game.

Still, this should be a fun series to watch. Forecast: Alaska in five.

San Miguel versus Rain or Shine. Expect an explosive series. And a physical one too. The Beermen have clearly the most dominant big man in the PBA in June Mar Fajardo (23.09 points and 14.36 rebounds per game). But the Elasto Painters have an antidote, a terrifying ternion in Beau Belga, Raymond Almazan and JR Quinahan that has a combined average of over 30 markers and 20 boards per outing. The troika of Arwind Santos (15.45 ppg, 7.18 rpg), Alex Cabagnot (14.45 ppg, 5 apg) and Marcio Lassiter (9.56 ppg) is likewise a cumbersome defensive task for RoS. Jeff Chan, Jericho Cruz, Mav Ahanmisi and Gabe Norwood will have to bring out their A-games in the series against the talent-laden SMB. The good news is that RoS star Paul Lee will be back in action after being sidelined by a knee injury. Talk about fireworks, this series will have some of the best outside gunners in the league. Surely, both seasoned tacticians Leo Austria and Yeng Guiao will have aces up their sleeves during the series. As far as the numbers go, there’s little distance between the two teams: points (RoS 101.5, SMB 96.5), rebounds (RoS 51.3, SMB 49.6), assists (RoS 21, SMB 20), field goals (RoS 44.9 percent, SMB 42.7 percent), 3-pts made (SMB 8.5, RoS 8.3).

It will boil down to who wants it more.

Forecast: SMB in seven.

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