Philippine Cup unfurls March 8 at Big Dome

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    THE absence of two giants have undeniably left a big void in the PBA.

    That should add unpredictability to the pro league’s usual dose of excitement when it opens its 45th season with the Philippine Cup on March 8 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

    Eleven of the 12 teams represented in yesterday’s pre-season media conference expect San Miguel Beer to make its adjustments in the absence of injured center June Mar Fajardo as it shoots for a sixth straight crown in the import-less season opener.

    Ditto for Ginebra, which has to make do without Greg Slaughter, after the seven-foot behemoth decided to take a basketball sabbatical.

    Yet most of those present insist the Beermen and Kings remain among the favorites.

    “San Miguel and Ginebra will make their adjustments,” Bobby Rosales of Columbian, also the league’s vice chairman, noted.

    “Last year, I predicted San Miguel would win and I was proven right,” echoed Blackwater’s Silliman Sy.  “This year I place my bet on Ginebra because it remains a very strong team.”

    “Even without June Mar and Slaughter those two teams remain the ones to beat because of their experience,” NorthPort’s Eric Arejola chimed in.

    If only SMB itself was just as sure.

    “Ito ang magiging pinakamabigat na season for us,” said San Miguel’s Robert Non. “Kasi, grabe ang injury ni June Mar and he may be out the whole season. We just hope the coaching staff can come up with the necessary adjustments and the players can adapt — and fast.”

    Still, it is undeniable that the title race is now open with Magnolia, Rain or Shine and TNT tipped by some as true-blue contenders, although a trade that would net the KaTropa center Poy Erram still has to meet approval by the PBA trade committee.

    “The bettor’s choice should be on Magnolia and TNT because both have the size and talent,” said Rain or Shine’s Mert Mondragon. ”But we will be there.”

    Magnolia’s Rene Pardo is hoping his team would finally get over the championship hump after being denied by SMB in each of their title duels the last two seasons.

    “It is still very vivid in our memories and we’re now hoping third time would be a charm,” said Pardo.

    “We’re very excited… but I think Rain or Shine and Ginebra remain as the teams to beat.”