June 24, 2017, 3:06 am
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Ginebra, SMB protect share of lead

SAN Miguel Beer and Ginebra are generally amply rested and are raring to plunge right back into the PBA Commissioner’s Cup battles.

One main concern is how June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar would perform when the Beermen and Kings clash with NLEX and Rain or Shine, respectively, today at the Astrodome.

Fajardo and Aguilar were among the PBA stars who donned the Gilas Pilipinas uniform in the SEABA tournament that ended only last night and were absent from team practices and even games since being tapped for national duty.

Their immediate services are surely needed by their respective squads, which need a win each to formalize their inclusion among the top eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals.

NLEX has been eliminated since absorbing a seventh loss and, following another defeat to Blackwater last May 3, triggered a four-team, multi-player deal that netted the Road Warriors Alex Mallari and Kennth Ighalo and, a short while later, Larry Fonacier and JR Quinahan.

Aside from trying to act out the role of spoiler, the Road Warriors are now bent on movin on without Sean Anthony, Bradwyn Guinto, Garvo Lanete, Glen Khobuntin and Eric Camson.

That is precisely what gnaws at Austria. “NLEX has nothing to lose and that makes them extra dangerous,” he said. “At the same time, we’re after a quarterfinals slot so we need to be at full strength.”

The three-peat Philippine Cup champion had already tasted defeat minus the reigning three-time MVP.

Without the 6-foot-10 behemoth, who is usually good for 14 points and 7.8 rebounds an outing, not to mention his huge inside presence, SMB dropped a 103-112 decision to TNT KaTropa last May 5.

“Kaya nga kailangan namin talaga si June Mar dahil sa kanya nag-u-umpisa ang plays namin and his defense is vital,” said Austria. “Besides, hindi naman siya masyadong pagod sa Gilas dahil nabibigyan siya ng ample rest.”

Raymond Almazan was also among those called for Gilas and Rain or Shine also sorely missed his services when the defending champion dropped a 93-99 decision to Star last May 6.

The loss, their second straight, prompted the Elasto Painters to bring back former import Duke Crews in lieu of Shawn Taggart.

With Greg Slaughter set to see action only in the third conference, Ginebra is left with only Aguilar as a legitimate threat at the post, although coach Tim Cone is sure to have come up with some strategies during his team’s 11-day break as they try to stretch their winning streak to seven.

“It’s been a terrifically long break so we’re apprehensive as to how sharp we’ll be,” said Cone. “Plus, we’re uncertain of Japeth’s availability because he has had no practice with us this week and hence no preparation for what we’re to do against Rain or Shine.   

“We’ll see if we can figure it all out in time for our game. But no doubt, our guys are raring to get back at it.”

TNT KaTropa is reportedly bringing in NBA D-League campaigner Joshua Smith to replace Donte Greene.

A source within the TNT camp said Greene, who averaged 29.0 points, 14.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.4 blocks in seven games, has been deemed expendable due to the return of Gilas players Jayson Castro, Roger Pogoy and Troy Rosario.

“Si Greene kasi kinuha in anticipation of the absence of our Gilas players,” said the team insider. “Si Smith kasi is more of a defender, rebounder and rim protector which is what the team needs now na babalik na sila Jayson.”
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