An intriguing Big Dome duel pits Beermen against Kings

Dec 16, 2023

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MANILA, Philippines – The action in the 2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup returns to the beloved confines of Smart Araneta Coliseum with a bitter rivalry showdown highlighting the opening salvo of Big Dome basketball this holiday weekend. Defending champion Barangay Ginebra locked horns with old nemesis San Miguel Beermen on Friday night, with both accomplished clubs aiming to break out of backslide losing skids and sustain upward mobility securing one of four quarter finals playoff seeds accompanied by the coveted twice-to-beat bonus.

After being ambushed in stunning fashion 82-77 by the surging Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters last Saturday in provincial play staged in San Jose, Batangas, Ginebra coach Tim Cone’s squad finds themselves on the outside peering just beyond the top four cutoff in the standings – now harboring a 4-2 win-loss record. Consecutive setbacks on their home floor including the shock upset defeat to Phoenix followed a frustrating Christmas day blowout loss against Converge has the barangay feeling they may have stalled after a sprinting start from pole position.

Meanwhile, the proud San Miguel Beerman have also suffered consecutive losses – a head-scratching 115-101 defeat against bottom-feeders NorthPort followed by a hard-fought 94-90 nailbiter loss against second-ranked sister squad Magnolia in a meeting of MVP group franchises. The back-to-back losses sees coach Jore Gallent’s veteran-laded but injury-ravaged club slip to 3-3, now embroiled in a four-way tie for 6th place alongside TNT Tropang Giga heading into their tussle with the reigning champions.

With the tightly-bunched standings indicating sustain winning momentum will separate contenders from pretenders as single round robin elimination play winds down, neither the Gin Kings or Beermen can afford anymore untimely losing skids. Expect the latest intense installment of this iconic PBA rivalry to feature physical play and punch counterpunch scoring bursts. But which former championship franchise can display enough consistency to close out 2022 with momentum and charge towards 2023?

The San Miguel Beermen face an uphill battle entering their Saturday showdown against archrivals Barangay Ginebra Kings, absent several key injured stars. Big men June Mar Fajardo, Vic Manuel, Jeron Teng all remain sidelined while explosive guard Terrence Romeo is also ruled out, leaving major holes in San Miguel’s roster rotation. The mounting attritional issues have clearly hampered the Beermen from establishing any sustainable offensive rhythm or chemistry throughout the conference.

The responsibility now falls squarely on imports Ivan Aska and Cameron Clark along with Pinoy stalwarts CJ Perez, Moala Tautuaa, Marcio Lassiter and veteran point guard Chris Ross to step up and fill the void. But the shortened local lineup has struggled to consistently ignite and click on all cylinders. As competitors, they surely won’t make excuses, but the reality is that this decimated squad scraping through adversity faces a ramped up powerhouse in Ginebra, already gaining strength from the recent introduction of high-scoring guard Maverick Ahanmisi along with the return of versatile forwards Jamie Malonzo and icon LA Tenorio from injury rehab.

The Kings will present a far more formidable opponent than the Still winless Terrafirma Dyip squad that San Miguel narrowly beat 97-91 in their last outing. In fact, despite Ginebra continuing to miss the services of incumbent MVP runner up Scottie Thompson the past two games after suffering an ankle sprain a week ago, the Kings still managed to split their outings – including an ambush from a surging Phoenix Fuel Masters club. Now shoved down into a five way logjam vying for playoff seeding superiority, neither the Beermen nor the Gin Kings can afford to drop such vital separation games with second-ranked squads Magnolia and Phoenix threatening to pull away securing the crucial twice to beat bonus.

The upside for the winner of this bitter rivalry showdown is landing Solo pole position for the 4th seed that comes tied to that incentive during quarterfinal play. But claiming solo ascent up the table requires halting backslide stems first. Unfortunately for coach Leo Austria’s club, June Mar Fajardo’s timetable still remains murky pending further re-evaluation on his fractured right hand. Teams can ill afford to lose a pillar like Fajardo for too long during tight playoff races. But the 5-time MVP’s fighting spirit permeates the roster. Expect San Miguel’s stingy defense and maximum effort executing Austria’s signature triangle offense scheme to fuel potential knockout punch bursts with Peso for peso firepower against their barangay nemesis. The Beermen may lack depth but never big game moxie and motivation when Ginebra clashes loom – injured roster or not.

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