With just ten playing days left in the on-going Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup single-round eliminations, only four teams are in contention for the top two spots – the Magnolia Chicken Timplados Hotshots (7-1), Bay Area Dragons (8-2), Converge FiberXers (8-2), and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (5-2). In this field of 13 teams, eight will make it to the quarterfinals, and the top two spots enjoy a twice-to-beat advantage – a luxury in this import-laden tournament.
Magnolia is currently on top of the standings with seven wins and just one defeat to show. The Hotshots’ lone loss came at the hands of Ginebra, which used an explosive fourth quarter attack to complete the 103-97 come-from-behind W. But they still have four matches remaining in schedule against dangerous opponents. The San Miguel Beermen pose the first big challenge to Magnolia when they clash on Wednesday. Currently at eighth place, the Beermen are expected to go all out for a victory as they hope to keep their position in the Magic 8. Then, it’s the Hong Kong-based guest squad Bay Area Dragons on Saturday, another huge assignment for Magnolia. The Hotshots close out the elims versus the Meralco Bolts (3-5) on November 27 and the Rain Or Shine Elasto Painters (4-6) on December 2 – two teams that are fighting to stay alive.
Tied at second with an 8-2 win-loss card are Bay Area and Converge that both have two assignments left in the elimination phase. The FiberXers, who are enjoying an outstanding seven-game winning streak, will take on the Northport Batang Pier (5-5) on Sunday, then Ginebra on November 30. Surely no easy tasks for Converge but it’s enjoying a great momentum that’s built on energy and effort, and stellar outside shooting. But against the Batang Pier and Barangay Ginebra, the FiberXers’ interior defense will be tested. Their last defeat was way back on October 7 when they dropped a close 100-106 decision to the Dragons. Converge’s first loss was at the hands of the Hotshots, 105-109.
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Meanwhile, the Bay Area Dragons will have no walk in the park as well, facing Magnolia on Saturday and TNT on November 23. The Hotshots are known for their defense and grit. On the other hand, the Tropang Giga can be a defensive nightmare for any team in the PBA when their offense is in sync. However, the Dragons have a noticeable size advantage over Magnolia and TNT, especially when the 7’5” behemoth Chuanxing Liu is on the floor. The coaching chess match will also be interesting when Magnolia’s Chito Victolero and TNT’s Chot Reyes clash hoops wits Bay Area’s Brian Goorjian. The Australian-American Goorjian is a highly respectable basketball coach in international competitions and the most accomplished coach in Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL) history. He is also currently Australia’s national team coach. The Dragons absorbed their first loss in the tournament via a 111-93 drubbing from Ginebra on October 9. Then on November 4, the Meralco Bolts survived a tight contest with Bay Area, 92-89.
Barangay Ginebra will have to traverse the rough road heading into the top two spots as it plays five games in a span of 13 days. The PBA’s crowd darlings should have no trouble getting past Blackwater on Friday. But two days later, they meet a yearning TNT side that’s raring to book a ticket to the quarterfinals. On November 25, the Barangay tangles with an embattled NLEX team before battling Northport on November 27. Their last assignment is against the sizzling Converge on November 30. This five-game stretch will be an upstream ride for Ginebra.
Looking at the remaining games, I’m anticipating that Converge, Magnolia, and Bay Area will each end up with a 10-2 record. If such is the case, the quotient system will decide which teams will take the top two spots.
Northport and Phoenix are currently tied at the fifth and sixth spots with 5-5 cards. I believe both squads will enter the next stage of the tournament. But the Batang Pier will have their hands full with Converge and Ginebra being their last two opponents. Meanwhile, the Fuel Masters are currently on a two-game skid after back-to-back losses to Converge and Magnolia respectively. They had previously enjoyed a five-game winning run before it ended with the defeat to the FiberXers. Phoenix’s last two games are versus the Beermen and the winless Terrafirma Dyip.
Mathematically, Rain or Shine (4-6), Meralco (3-5), NLEX (3-6) and Blackwater (3-7) can still catch up with TNT and San Miguel at the seventh and eighth places. The Tropang Giga still have four backbreaking games left versus Meralco, Ginebra, Bay Area, and San Miguel in that order. On the other hand, the Beermen still need to play five more games and these are against Magnolia, Phoenix, Terrafirma, TNT and Meralco. Like the top two spots, the last two slots will also be hotly contested. But it will likely be San Miguel and TNT catching the last ride.
But the real fun starts in the quarterfinals. This is where the real PBA stars shine. Right now, we can see the perennial powerhouses San Miguel Beer and TNT facing some adversities in the tournament but they’re still likely to make it to the quarters. The PBA playoffs will offer a different challenge to the early leaders, especially new teams like Converge and Bay Area. This is where the playoff experience sets in.