The defending champions San Miguel Beermen and back-to-back Governors' Cup titleholders Barangay Ginebra San Miguel kick off the semifinal festivities of the 2017-18 PBA Philippine Cup later today. Meanwhile, the title-hungry Magnolia Hotshots and first-time semifinalists NLEX Road Warriors start their grueling best-of-seven series tomorrow.
Each team had no problem eliminating their quarterfinal opponent—SMB and Magnolia didn't need their twice-to-beat advantage against TNT and GlobalPort, respectively, to advance, while Ginebra and NLEX swept Rain or Shine and Alaska. The playoff picture was set as early as Wednesday.
Hours before the basketball war resumes, FHM did a little number-crunching to identify the biggest difference-makers (players, strengths, weaknesses) to come up with the most compelling storylines surrounding the penultimate round of the All-Filipino tournament.
Can SMB make it a four straight All-Filipino championships?
Double team: June Mar Fajardo (22.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 9.5 free throw attempts per game; 64% field goal)
X factor: Arwind Santos (16.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2 bpg, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game)
What works: 1st in ppg (98.9), bpg (6.4) and defensive rebounds per game (38.3); 2nd in offensive rating (102.4); 3nd in rpg (52.6)
Work on: 7th in free throw percentage (67), despite being 2nd in fta (23.2); 7th in offensive rebounds per game (14.2); 4th-worst in turnovers (18.8)
This is what it would look like if Anthony Davis joined the Golden State Warriors. No team has been successful at stopping the chemistry and talent of the Beermen in the last three editions of the Philippine Cup, especially having put the drama—Petronovela, anyone?—and injuries behind them. The only legitimate threat to The Kraken is Ginebra's Greg Slaughter, who isn't even a hundred percent (sprained ankle). As cliche as it sounds, the four-peat is really just the San Miguel dynasty's to lose.
Can Puref- err, Magnolia end their four-year title drought?
Double team: Paul Lee (17.3 ppg, 3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.1 spg, 44% three point)
X factor: Ian Sangalang (13.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
What works: 1st in ortg (104.3); 1st in free throws made (17.1), 2nd in ft% (75) and 3rd in fta (22.8); 4th in spg (9.3) and fewest tov (15.7)
Work on: last in defensive rating (92.8); 10th in pace (75.3); 8th in three point attempts (25.2)
Having more name changes than championships won in the last few years is always a bad thing for a PBA franchise. After their 2013-14 Grand Slam, everything went downhill for the Hotshots—missed playoffs, Tim Cone and James Yap exit. It may have taken a while for Chito Victolero's system to be in full effect, but it's peaking at the right time. Their series against NLEX all boils down to how they can limit the opposing guards (particuarly Kiefer Ravena) and how Sangalang asserts himself inside.
Can Ginebra get over the 'local' hump?
Double team: Japeth Aguilar (19.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.4 bpg)
X factor: Greg Slaughter (16.7 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.7 bpg)
What works: 1st in apg (24.5); 2nd in rpg (53); 3rd in drpg (37.2) and fg% (42)
Work on: 11th in pace (75.1), spg (6.3), fga (80.7) despite being 8th in fgm (34.2); 10th in drtg (94.4) and 3pt% (30); 9th in bpg (3.9); worst in tov (20.1); last in 3pa (20.1) and 3pm (6.2)
The most popular ballclub in the country has nothing to prove in import-flavored conferences, partly thanks to Justin Brownlee. However, the Barangay just can't seem to translate their Governors' Cup success (back-to-back champs) to the All-Filipino tournament, despite having a loaded squad mentored by a coaching great. Ginebra's fortune rests on the dominance of their twin towers and— facing their sister team—everything they can get out of that signature never-say-die attitude.
Can NLEX complete their Cinderella run?
Double team: Kiefer Ravena (15.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.9 spg)
X factor: JR Quinahan (14.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.2 bpg)
What works: 2nd in fg% (43) and pace (80.8); 3rd in apg (22.4); 4th in ppg (94.5), fgm (35.4) and drtg (100.8)
Work on: 10th in bpg (3) and orpg (12.6); 9th in spg (7.4), rpg (47.5), fta (19.9) and ortg (97.1); 8th in ftm (14.1)
Name a group that has had a bigger turnaround. It's hard to imagine that Yeng Guiao and his boys were at the bottom of the standings only a year ago. The Road Warriors need a lot of things going for them to overcome Magnolia, being the dark horse of the semifinals. Expect Ravena to elevate his game to the next level as they make a deep run—same goes for Kevin Alas. If not for Fajardo and if NLEX indeed go all the way, we could be seeing the second rookie MVP since Benjie Paras in 1989.