Charles Rhodes and Ricardo Ratliffe are no strangers to each other, having met numerous times in the Korean Basketball League. This will be their first face-off in the Philippines as key weapons for their respective squads eyeing to advance to the finals of the import-laden conference.
A first-timer in Asia's first professional league, Rhodes proved to be an imposing presence and a weekly highlight machine that made an already-strong Beermen a more potent squad. The addition of the 6-foot-8 Rhodes eases up the responsibilities of 6-foot-10 June Mar Fajardo in the shaded lane, while complementing with the likes of Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross, and Arwind Santos.
Ratliffe has become a game-changer for the Hotshots ever since he decided to return for another tour of duty despite a standing offer to play in the Middle East. Also at 6-foot-8, Ratliffe was the import Star needed after parading import Tony Mitchell, who, despite his explosiveness on offense, lacked the defensive skills emphasized by coach Chito Victolero.
In fact, Beermen coach Leo Austria is wary of Ratliffe, saying: “Hindi lang siya may opensa, may depensa din siya. Nadadala niya ang team niya dahil every game halos 30 points at halos 20 rebounds siya at nag-iba yung body language ng mga teammates niya because they have somebody na sasandalan.”
The Rhodes-Ratliffe duel is one of many matchups to anticipate in the series.
San Miguel hopes to find ways to stop Star's Paul Lee, who can explode once he picks up his rhythm. Chris Ross, the Finals MVP of the Philippine Cup, is expected to do the difficult task of limiting the former Rookie of the Year.
Lassiter and the Hotshots' Allein Maliksi will be expected to knock down their outside shots, particularly in clutch moments. Both can deliver the big threes at any time, which will pose more problems for either team on defense.
Mark Barroca was vital in Star's sweep of Rain or Shine in the quarterfinals, even delivering 12 points and five steals (four of which came in the fourth quarter) to complete the series win. He is going to be the man tasked to hold the fort for the Hotshots against the Beermen's Alex Cabagnot, the unexpected early leader in the race for the Best Player of the Conference. Cabagnot has always been the stabilizer whenever the Beermen are in dire situations.
Fajardo could be the big problem the Hotshots will encounter. With Marc Pingris expected to remain out of the series with a hip injury, expect Aldrech Ramos, Ian Sangalang, and Rafi Reavis, among others, to try and limit the production of the three-time reigning MVP.
With San Miguel and Star having deep rosters, the bench plays a major role in the series. The Beermen have Santos, Gabby Espinas, and Ronald Tubid leading the reserves, while the Hotshots go with Justin Melton and PJ Simon as among the notables.
If the two squads live up to their billings as the league's title contenders, the series may go the distance. San Miguel holds the advantage, owing to its desire to win another crown, while Star is hungry for a finals berth following a heartbreaking semis loss to Ginebra last conference.
Game 1 begins today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
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