You don't have to be a kabarangay to see that Tim Cone's squad is more top-heavy than Norman Black's Meralco Bolts. Not to take anything away from the No. 1 seed this conference, but the defending champions are simply loaded, which the San Miguel Beermen and the TNT KaTropa found out the hard way in the earlier rounds of the playoffs.
The Kings crushed SMB's Grand Slam hopes during the quarterfinals, then unintentionally provoked semifinal opponent TNT (thanks to Kevin Ferrer, but more importanly, Glen Rice, Jr.). They almost cruised to the Finals despite a couple of unwanted distractions—memes (about officiating) and a controversial, long-haired executive.
All because their previous challengers were overmatched and the Barangay is that overpowered. And in this rematch of last year's championship series, it doesn't look like anything will change.
One could argue that the Bolts backcourt is one of the most exciting guard combos in the league. Baser Amer's (13.9 ppg 4.2 apg) gold medal SEA Games stint has carried over to the PBA, and Chris Newsome (14.3 ppg 6.6 rpg 5.5) has taken his play to new heights. The problem is, Black doesn't have a "next man up" outside of the two—Jimmy Alapag is now calling the shots with him, Garvo Lanete is too inconsistent, Mike Tolomia barely plays.
Also, they're about to face the royal triumvirate of LA Tenorio (14.9 ppg 4.4 apg), Scottie Thompson (7.8 ppg 5.9 rpg 6.3 apg), and Solomon Mercado (4.3 ppg 3.6 apg). The numbers might not be as flashy as their counterparts, yet every one of them has a huge impact on the game. Tenorio's basketball IQ compensates for his physical limitations; Thompson is all over the place. And remember what happened when Cone put Mercado on Allen Durham?
The most glaring disadvantage, though, can be found in the paint, mainly because of their contrasting styles. As much as Ginebra exploits its size (four players above 6'5"), Meralco's bigs—Ranidel de Ocampo and Reynel Hugnatan—like to shoot it from deep (combined seven three-points attempts per game). Greg Slaughter (14.4 ppg 9.7 rpg), who was injured the last time around, and Japeth Aguilar (11.6 ppg 8.9 rpg) will be downright feasting inside. When the Twin Towers are in sync, they're virtually unstoppable.
Don't get us wrong: the 2016 runners-up aren't without strengths (wing, acquisitions, and import). It's just that Kings have an answer for everything Meralco will throw at them. Jared Dillinger (8.7 ppg 3.4 rpg) and Cliff Hodge (7.8 ppg ) give their team a dynamic, two-way perimeter threat—nothing that Ferrer, Justin Brownlee, Aguilar, and even Joe Devance (12.3 ppg 5 rpg 3 apg) can't handle.
De Ocampo may very well be the X factor for the Bolts, but his skill and toughness can only do so much against the imposing and agile Barangay frontline. Expect Durham (27.8 ppg 19.4 rpg 7.09 apg) to dominate his matchup with Brownlee, who in turn will unleash his all-around brilliance (22.6 ppg 11.6 rpg 4.9 apg 2.1 bpg 1.7 spg).
Although what makes us damn sure Ginebra wins it all is the fact that they are the titleholders. Meralco may have made things interesting with a victory during the eliminations (93-78), still, it's a different ball game altogether. The Kings are hell-bent on following up their first championship in eight years—just ask the majority of the crowd at the Quezon Convention Center tonight.
That's why we're calling it Ginebra in 5, only because RDO will do a Justin Brownlee in one of the games. We may also see the last of the "Fast and the Furious"—finally, Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand can call it quits.