THE battle for the PBA Philippine Cup starting this Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum is expected to be wide open due to the absence of two big figures.
San Miguel Beer and Magnolia aim to narrow down the oddsmakers’ choices when they offer a glimpse of their respective strengths in the lone match kicking off the league’s 45th season.
The Beermen are gunning for their sixth straight title while the Hotshots want to book a third straight trip to the finals and from there finally break their foes’ stranglehold on the championship.
It’s not just SMB and Magnolia which have a clear shot at the title though.
The acquisition of Poy Erram from NLEX has plugged TNT’s long-standing hole in the middle while Rain or Shine, NorthPort and Alaska also have frontlines that can ably match up with the rest.
The Elasto Painters’ frontliners are led by the wily Beau Belga and bruiser Jewel Ponferrada while the Batang Pier boast of Christian Standhardinger and Kelly Nabong up front. The vastly improved Abu Tratter and seasoned Vic Manuel will clog the middle for the Aces.
That’s where San Miguel’s erstwhile firm hold on the title seems to have loosened up now that star center June Mar Fajardo is out with a shin injury that may sideline him for majority of the season.
Mo Tautuaa, Arwind Santos and Russell Escoto will try to fill up the big slack, the problem besetting its most popular sister team.
Ginebra has also previously been tipped to win the season-opening title for the first time since 2007 following its latest Governors Cup crown last January. But the Kings also have to re-jig their game when Greg Slaughter decided to go on a basketball sabbatical.
Even Ginebra coach Tim Cone observed that the league’s most prestigious crown is there for the taking.
“I think we have a lot of question marks and San Miguel has a lot of question marks,” said the league’s winningest coach who still has to win the Philippine Cup with the team he hooked up with in 2015.”
“I think it’s a wide-open field probably for the first time in five or six years. This all-Filipino is up for grabs,” added Cone. “I think there’s no decided favorite out there. And I say that in all honesty.”
That is where Magnolia should come in.
With a lineup that includes Ian Sangalang, Rafi Reavis, Marc Pingris and new acquisition Jackson Corpuz, the Hotshots now have a frontline that should ably complement their star-studded backcourt.
Still, Magnolia coach Chito Victolero was quick to point out that championships are not won on paper.
“Hard work pa rin and how well your team has that chemistry,” said Victolero. “If we can come up with a balanced effort on both ends of the court saka ma-outwork namin kabila, then mas magkakaroon kami tsansa.”