• SMB, Magnolia eye semis berths


    Reigning champion San Miguel Beer and Magnolia shoot for an early entry to the best-of-seven semifinals when they face separate foes today at the start of the quarterfinal round of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Season 43 Philippine Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

    The No. 1 Beermen, holder of a twice-to-beat edge in the quarterfinals, meet No. 8 TNT KaTropa in the first game at 4:30 p.m., while another twice-to-beat holder, the No. 2 Hotshots battle GlobalPort in the second game at 7 p.m.

    Coming from a frustrating defeat to Rain or Shine (80-95) last week, the Beermen are determined to play their very best against a solid TNT side.

    San Miguel holds a twice-to-beat bonus heading to the quarterfinals due to its 8-3 win-loss record after the elimination.

    San Miguel Beer’s June Mar Fajardo (No. 15) goes for a layup against Alaka’s Sonny Thoss during the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Season 43 Philippine Cup elimination round. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

    “That is a very crucial game for us and even to TNT because both teams believe whoever wins in our series will be having a good chance to be featured in the championship,” said Beermen mentor Leo Austria, noting the addition of Jericho Cruz gives TNT a huge lift offensively.

    “They (TNT) acquired a new player (Cruz) who is fit in their system. They are now a well-balanced team in terms of their rotation.”

    Four-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, who is averaging 22.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.1 blocks in the elimination round, is going to anchor San Miguel Beer’s offense and defense together with returning Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos and Chris Ross.

    Austria also downplayed San Miguel Beer’s twice-to-beat card.

    “Our twice-to-beat bonus is just the result of our hard work in the elimination. It is just like playing in a best-of-three match, where you already won Game 1.”

    After beating Phoenix (118-97) last Sunday’s knockout game for the No. 8 and last quarterfinal spot, TNT is facing another huge obstacle this time, as it needs to overcome San Miguel Beer twice.

    Cruz is showing effectiveness under TNT coach Nash Racela after averaging 17 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals in his first two games for his new team.

    Meanwhile, Magnolia wants no any hassle, when it plays GlobalPort.

    The No. 2 Hotshots are coming from back-to-back victories in the elimination round against GlobalPort (96-81) and Meralco (94-65) to close out the elimination round with an 8-3 win-loss record and get the second twice-to-beat edge in the quarterfinals.

    Although they have an advantage heading to the quarterfinals, Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said they would not think of having an advantage against the Batang Pier.

    “We are not going to think of the twice-to-beat advantage. We just need to surpass the energy and aggressiveness of GlobalPort. Our defense will be the key into this game especially that they have Terrence Romeo now. He is another weapon in their offense,” said Victolero.

    Paul Lee, who just played eight games in the elimination round with an average of 17.3 points, scored 21 points in Magnolia’s last win over Meralco.

    The Batang Pier ended the elimination with a 5-6 record but claimed the No. 7 spot due to superior quotient.

    Terrence Romeo returned from a knee injury after missing the first 10 games in the elimination. He scored 20 points in his comeback but it wasn’t enough though to save the Batang Pier from a 100-104 loss to Phoenix last week.


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