Both teams are struggling to regain the form they showed in the Philippine Cup when each team looked like a title contender leading up to the playoffs. They were 3rd-T (+8.1) and 1st (+11.3) in efficiency differential for much of the season and eventually found themselves on the opposite sides of a pretty contentious (and fun!) Finals series.
This season, they are the worst and 4th worst (respectively) in terms of differential and have won just 1 of their past 5 games combined.
The biggest question for the Beermen is the declined play of their behemoth superstar, June Mar Fajardo. He’s having a down conference this year, after dominating the last conference en route to a title. He’s struggled transitioning from being the most physically imposing player in the league to just another big guy. It doesn’t help that he’s playing with another inside presence, compared to playing with mostly guards and forwards in the past conference. Last conference, 10 of the most used SMB lineups that had Fajardo in them all featured him playing with 3-point marks man.
|Team||lineup||Time Played (min)||Off Rating||Def Rating||Net Rating|
|SMB||Fajardo, June Mar | Lutz, Chris | Pascual, Ronald | Ross, Chris | Santos, Arwind||85.8||111.3||94.9||16.4|
|SMB||Fajardo, June Mar | Lassiter, Marcio | Lutz, Chris | Mercado, Solomon | Santos, Arwind||81.2||105.9||112.2||-6.3|
|SMB||Fajardo, June Mar | Lassiter, Marcio | Lutz, Chris | Ross, Chris | Santos, Arwind||26.4||110.2||73.3||36.9|
|SMB||Fajardo, June Mar | Lutz, Chris | Mercado, Solomon | Pascual, Ronald | Santos, Arwind||20.3||122.9||84.4||38.5|
|SMB||Fajardo, June Mar | Lassiter, Marcio | Mercado, Solomon | Omolon, Nelbert | Santos, Arwind||15.7||124.1||59.3||64.9|
|SMB||Fajardo, June Mar | Lutz, Chris | Ross, Chris | Santos, Arwind | Tubid, Ronald||13.8||56.3||117.4||-61.1|
|SMB||Fajardo, June Mar | Fortuna, Jeric | Lutz, Chris | Santos, Arwind | Tubid, Ronald||13.3||134.6||114.8||19.8|
|SMB||Fajardo, June Mar | Fortuna, Jeric | Lassiter, Marcio | Lutz, Chris | Santos, Arwind||11.6||123.8||75.0||48.8|
|SMB||Fajardo, June Mar | Fortuna, Jeric | Lutz, Chris | Pascual, Ronald | Santos, Arwind||11.1||119.0||125.0||-6.0|
|SMB||Fajardo, June Mar | Lutz, Chris | Mercado, Solomon | Santos, Arwind | Tubid, Ronald||8.9||129.4||93.3||36.1|
All but 1 of those lineups failed offensively, which is a bigger problem for the Beermen.
For the Aces, same story, different team. The Aces just have to hold on for dear life. They can’t play defense particularly because:
a. Covington isn’t a strong defender in space, reputations be damned. Imports are torching him (Thornton and Leslie scored 30+ efficient points in their games against Alaska), he isn’t physical in nature (or has yet to understand the physical nature of the PBA) and he doesn’t command a voice similar to Dozier to direct traffic. This is why the Aces defense has suffered.
b. Abueva, Alaska’s de-facto “enforcer”, is struggling to stamp his mark this conference (much like his 2012 draftee). He also missed the Aces last game against GlobalPort.
|Player||On-Court DRTG||Off-Court DRTG||Differential|
To me, this will come down to two things:
1. Can Fajardo find his groove back offensively against a smaller Alaska team?
They’ve played against PJ Ramos (7’3″), Douthit (6’11”) and the Ginebra trio (Dunigan/Slaughter/Aguilar). The Aces’ import, as I’ve said, isn’t an imposing figure. Outside of him, Alaska doesn’t have a physically imposing player (unless Eman’s 6’9″, 260 lbs figure counts #FormerTopPick) so Fajardo and the Beermen might find themselves in for a treat (they’ve dominated the offensive glass this season).
SMB’s struggles can be directly tied to June Mar’s struggles. June Mar’s inability to command double teams is directly affecting his teammates’ performance. What were once open looks are now semi-open ones. He has a chance to regain some footing against an Aces team just struggling to stay afloat.
Simplistic as it may seem, it’s true. Alaska has no chance of winning the battle on the boards and although the Beermen have fewer press breakers, Alaska doesn’t have the luxury to play press like they used to, at least not while they’re missing players. That means fewer easy scoring chances which in turn puts more pressure on their defense to breakeven with SMB’s supposedly “struggling” offense.
If Alaska’s physicality directly affects Fajardo, and by extension SMB’s offense, Alaska can then just grind the game to a halt and hope for some lucky bounces. If June Mar finds his groove, Alaska is toast.