San Miguel vs. Alaska. Beer vs. Milk. I don’t know about you, but this is a match-up I always look forward to. Six months ago, these two teams were involved in a heated seven-game series. There was a lot of blood, a lot of animosity, and definitely a lot of thrown elbows. There were also big shots, clutch plays, and epic comebacks. After all that, it didn’t seem as though they’d meet again in the same way. As is well-known, the San Miguel Beermen bowed out of the elimination round the next conference and, while the Alaska Aces did make it to the playoffs, they were bounced out in two games. Different paths, same result. And yet, here we are again. SMB (8-2) and Alaska (7-2) will battle for the top spot with both coming from momentum-boosting wins. SMB just surgically took the Blackwater Elite apart to clinch a twice-to-beat advantage while Alaska staged another comeback against the Barako Bull Energy.
Statistically, they are as close as can be, with no distinct advantage either way. There’s not a lot for SMB to exploit except maybe the freethrow disparity. They can take advantage of Alaska’s physical style of defense and put them into the penalty much earlier. That is, of course, easier said than done. Even the three-point category isn’t as much as an advantage. Alaska leads the league in percentage while SMB in makes. They do have a slight edge in rebounding, which they should use to the fullest. They can’t have another repeat of the Blackwater game where they were outhustled on the boards. Other than that, they just have to trust their system: defend without fouling, take care of the ball, take the best shot available, and control the glass.
The individual match-ups are just as tough and noteworthy as the overall teams. June Mar Fajardo will face arguably the one guy who can stop him in veteran Sonny Thoss. Calvin Abueva is always a tough cover as SMB doesn’t have a player with the necessary combination of speed and strength. Maybe Arwind Santos can finally break out of this funk he’s been having. Another heated battle with Abueva could be just what he needs. There could also be a Gabby Espinas revenge game in the works as he was essentially traded for nothing. Lastly, two prolific imports in Arizona Reid and Travis Romeo finally meet.
It can be argued that Alaska have more to play for, especially with the need to reach eight wins. But SMB are just as hungry to prove that their performance in the Commissioner’s Cup was a fluke. Can they push their winning streak to nine? I certainly hope so. It never hurts to bring a ton of momentum into the playoffs. #FearTheBeer
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ARENA: PANABO CITY, DAVAO DEL NORTE
Featured Image Credit: Paul Ryan Tan, Sports5