The race to the PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals became one of the most complicated in recent memory after half of the eight playoff spots remained vacant until the final two playdates of the elimination round.
With the next phase of the season's opening conference to start this Sunday with a playoff for the eighth and final quarters berth, we take a look at possible players from each team who could spell the difference in the chase for the coveted Jun Bernardo Perpetual Trophy.
Alex Cabagnot (San Miguel Beermen)
Cabagnot may not have helped San Miguel end the eliminations on a winning note, but his return after missing six games because of an injured foot is welcome news for Beermen fans hoping to once again see “The Crunch Man” live up to his nickname.
Ian Sangalang (Magnolia Hotshots)
If Magnolia wants to finally get over the hump after a string of semifinal losses, Sangalang will have to be at his best against projected opponents like June Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, and Japeth Aguilar.
JVee Casio (Alaska Aces)
The triple-double in last week's victory against Rain or Shine—the first of his seven-year PBA career, was an indication that the on-and-off Casio can play a prominent role for the Aces in the games that matter.
Larry Fonacier (NLEX Road Warriors)
The former Ateneo star and 2006 PBA Rookie of the Year has a knack for delivering in the clutch, a reputation NLEX hopes to see when it seeks a first semifinal appearance in franchise history.
Maverick Ahanmisi (Rain or Shine Elasto Painters)
Ahanmisi has shown a potential of becoming a major player for Rain or Shine with a couple of 20-point games this conference but will need to provide the consistency the team sorely needs, especially after trading away Jericho Cruz several weeks earlier.
Joe Devance (Barangay Ginebra San Miguel)
Devance recently came back after recovering from foot surgery, his absence heavily played a factor in Ginebra's struggles this conference. The Kings would like to see JDV deliver not only the numbers but the intangibles that won him seven titles in 12 pro seasons.
Terrence Romeo (?) (GlobalPort Batang Pier)
The question mark pertains as to whether the fan favorite could be available before the end of the elims, though Romeo hinted after watching Gilas Pilipinas' home victory over Japan in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers of an imminent return.
Jericho Cruz (TNT KaTropa)
Cruz's 17 points in his TNT debut against NLEX showcased how the former Rain or Shine swingman can be an additional depth to an already-talented KaTropa squad aiming to remain as one of the league's championship contenders.
Allein Maliksi (Blackwater Elite)
Maliksi's experiences playing for Magnolia's past championship teams could provide the steadying presence needed by the young Blackwater squad, though the ex-University of Santo Tomas standout needs to produce a better shooting percentage than his 35-percent clip in the elims.
Jeff Chan (Phoenix Fuel Masters)
While his shooting numbers may sometimes be suspect, Chan can still be Phoenix's best offensive option other than Matthew Wright. He's also a two-time champion and former Finals MVP during his time with Rain or Shine.