Beermen seek playoff for quarterfinals edge, clash with Painters

Beermen seek playoff for quarterfinals edge, clash with Painters

June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer and Rain or Shine's Beau Belga in this file photo. | Jun Mendoza

Games Friday (MOA Arena)

4:15 p.m. – NLEX vs GlobalPort

7 p.m. – San Miguel vs Rain or Shine

MANILA, Philippines – Red-hot San Miguel Beer shoots for an outright playoff crack at a twice-to-beat quarters incentive while Rain or Shine tries to maintain solo second spot as they meet in a marquee matchup in the PBA Philippine Cup elimination round at the MOA Arena in Pasay City Friday night.

The GlobalPort Batang Pier pursue their own Top Two aspiration while the NLEX Road Warriors continue to chase the lead pack in their own crucial setto at 4:15 p.m. before the Beermen and the E-Painters clash in a showdown of tournament frontrunners and titleholders at 7 p.m.

San Miguel, the reigning back-to-back all-Filipino conference champion, is a win away from a guaranteed tie for second place with a 7-1 card, with Commissioner's Cup titlist Rain or Shine (5-2) standing at second place a full-game ahead of joint third placers Alaska Milk (4-3), GlobalPort (4-3) and TNT KaTropa (4-3).

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Both SMB and ROS are on a hot run, but the Beermen are favored with their more formidable lineup without a health problem. Six-foot-seven Raymond Almazan, the tallest Rain or Shine player who can match up with June Mar Fajardo, is nursing a calf muscle injury.

"We're playing the hottest team in the league right now. It's gonna be a big test on our part on how to be consistent on both offense and defense," said ROS coach Caloy Garcia.

The E-Painters had their success against the Beermen in their Commissioner's Cup semifinal showdown when then ROS coach Yeng Guiao pitted big, bull-strong import Pierre Henderson-Niles with Fajardo.

But Garcia will have only Beau Belga, Jewel Ponferada and Jay Washington to put on the reigning three-time PBA MVP Friday night.

Except in their last game against Barangay Ginebra, Fajardo has been consistently churning out huge double-double numbers in the tourney, making him the early leader in the Best Player of the Conference race.

The Cebuano behemoth was the lead force in their six-game streak against Alaska, Mahindra, NLEX, Meralco, Blackwater and Barangay Ginebra. The Elasto Painters, meanwhile, shared the load in their decisive victories over NLEX (107-97) on Dec. 23 and over Phoenix Petroleum (97-83) Sunday.

Rain or Shine handily beat Phoenix the last time even in the absence of Almazan and do-it-all guard/forward Gabe Norwood. Against the Beermen, Garcia said they would need all the firepower they could get, so he's hoping Norwood would be ready to return to action.

The GlobalPort-NLEX tiff is an equally important match.

The Batang Pier, at 4-3, are out to hang on in the fight for the Top Two while NLEX is now virtually fighting for survival at 2-5.

Both teams came out strong in their first game in 2017, with the Batang Pier walloping the Meralco Bolts, 97-89, last Friday while the Road Warriors upended the Texters, 110-98, in a road game in Angeles City Saturday.