OK, basketball fans. Let’s take a look at the coronavirus-interrupted 46th season of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) now being played in a semi-bubble environment in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Yes, the PBA, Asia’s first play-for-pay league.
With the eight-team pquarterfinal cast now almost complete, the teams should also be ready to fight for the coveted trophy before empty seats in a state university of a third-class municipality known as “Athens of Pampanga”.
If the PBA playoffs started today…
No.1 Talk N Text (10-1) vs. No. 8 Barangay Ginebra (4-6)
Unless Ginebra finds a way to move up a notch or two higher, a first-round collision between two of the league’s most popular teams seems inevitable.
It should be fun. It should be interesting.
It is also a rematch of last year’s PBA Philippine Cup title showdown won by Ginebra in five spectator-less championship games against Talk N Text at the Clark bubble.
Right now, the Tropang Giga look unstoppable under comebacking coach Chot Reyes. The Gin Kings, however, appear to play better under tremendous pressure with coach Tim Cone at the helm.
As the top seed, Talk N Text also enjoys twice to beat advantage.
Players to watch: Jayson Castro, Troy Rosario and Mikey Williams of Talk N Text and LA Tenorio, Stanley Pringle and Japeth Aguilar of Ginebra.
No. 2 Meralco (7-2) vs. No. 7 NLEX (5-5)
If the present team standings hold, the two Manny V. Pangilinan-owned teams are set to meet in this No. 2 vs. No. 7 quarterfinal pairing.
Last year, Meralco finished fifth in the eliminations with 7-4 record. The Bolts defeated San Miguel Beer twice in the quarters but lost in five games to Ginebra in the semis.
NLEX wound up ninth at 5-6 and missed the playoffs.
This year, Meralco is looking to clinch No. 2 with two games to play.while NLEX is again fighting for playoff life with one game left.
As No. 2, Meralco also enjoys twice to beat bonus against No. 7 NLEX.
Players to watch: Chris Newsome, Cliff Hodge and Raymonď Almazan of Meralco and Kiefer Ravena, Kevin Alas, and JR Quinahan of NLEX.
No. 3 Magnolia (8-3) vs No. 6 NorthPort (5-5)
The last time these two teams played, Calvin “The Beast” Abueva played the role of “The Grinch” who stole NorthPort’s Christmas when he hit the game-winner for Magnolia as time expired.
It’s interesting to watch how these two teams play in a best-of three quarterfinal showdown.
The Hotdogs should have the edge, especially with Paul Lee playing like the lethal weapon again and Abueva doing a little of everything for coach Chito Victolero with the Christmas holidays coming.
But Greg Slaughter’s version of hunger games and coach Pido Jarencio’s never-say-die attitude could make things interesting.
Key players: Abueva, Lee and Ian Sangalang of Magnolia and Slaughter, Robert Bolick and Sean Anthony of NorthPort.
No. 4 San Miguel Beer (6-4). vs No. 5 Rain or Shine (6-5)
A game-winning layup by Rey Nambatac with two seconds left gave Rain or Shine an action-filled, come-from-behind 95-93 win over San Miguel Beer last Sept. 12.
Fans of both teams expect to see three more entertaining games if they get to meet in the best-of-three quarterfinals.
The No. 4 vs No. 5 battle should not be lacking in star power with some of the more talented, more experienced players on their rosters.
San Miguel coach Leo Austria and Rain or Shine mentor Cris Gavina also represent two of the brightest minds in local coaching world.
Players to watch: June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos and Terrence Romeo of San Miguel and JV Mocon, Beau Belga and James Yap of Rain or Shine.
The semis and the finals should be even more exciting, COVID or no COVID.
NOTES — Belated happy birthday to a long-time college friend-confidant Olga C. Oña, who celebrated last Sept. 11.
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