PBA: In the 13th season, the Meralco player with the longest stay hopes for the best but, can they really make JMF stop in the finals?

Jun 4, 2024

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Cliff Hodge joined Meralco more than 10 years ago, making him the player with the longest contract in the team’s history.

Therefore, if and when the Bolts win their first-ever PBA championship in the Philippine Cup Finals, it will be a memorable one.

Hodge will be competing in the PBA Finals for the fourth time; however, the Barangay Ginebra Kings defeated the previous four ended in heartache as the Bolts each time.

The seasoned forward expressed his optimism that Meralco will improve moving into their championship series against the defending champion San Miguel, saying it stinks every time the club loses without a trophy.

After eliminating their longtime rival Ginebra, the Bolts now face the top-seeded Beermen, the PBA’s most successful team and current champions, who are vying for a record-tying 30th championship.

Nevertheless, the 6-foot-4 Hodge is still optimistic about their chances, particularly after they made it through Ginebra in a taxing seven-game series that went all the way.

On Wednesday, the Smart Araneta Coliseum will host the first game of the best-of-seven championship series.

In the meantime, June Mar Fajardo is a challenging cover at 6-foot-10 and 268 pounds, which helps to explain why he has won seven PBA MVP awards and is particularly effective in a conference without many imports.

This also applies to the Philippine Cup title, which will be decided in a seven-game match starting on Wednesday. San Miguel should lose this tournament, largely due to Fajardo.

Fajardo is a physically intimidating big man who averages 17.4 points per game and makes 52.2 percent of his field goals. He is difficult to stop.

However, there are methods to at least reduce his speed.

One is to allow June Mar to be approached by either 6-foot-4 Cliff Hodge or 6-foot-10 Raymond Alamazan, deny reversals, and use an oversized help side to block lobs to him.

Force the monster from Cebu to the baseline, get him under the backboard, and then drop two bodies on him to maybe lessen Fajardo’s impact.

However, San Miguel is a dangerous club that scores 107.4 points a game at a rate of 46.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three, so any multiple coverage on Fajardo is exceedingly risky because it leaves a shooter exposed.
The man is ablaze.

Marcio Lassiter has played in 17 games this conference and is shooting 50% from three. He had better be the last person Meralco turns away.

Therefore, managing Fajardo is essentially a pick-your-poison situation: either allow him to score at will by protecting him straight up 1-on-1, or allow the other Beermen to defeat you.

Considering San Miguel’s armament, Option 2 might be just as deadly.

With 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, CJ Perez is dominating the court, while Terrence Romeo, who is at last pain-free and healthy, is gradually regaining his previous form with 12.3 points and 3.1 assists per game.

And then there’s Mo Tautuaa, the other monster from San Miguel, who can really screw Meralco over. Despite playing fewer minutes than the Kraken, Mo manages to score an astounding 7.6 points and pull down 4.8 rebounds every time he touches the ball.

The Bolts have a good chance of pulling off an upset, despite the heavy odds.

However, Chris Banchero needs to score more than his average of 11.3 points. Furthermore, he must lead the attack with more than simply 3.8 assists.

Chris Newsome is Meralco’s heart and soul and has been effective with 15.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game this conference.

Sadly, Newsome is having trouble scoring; he is only making 37.4 percent of his shots from the field and 25.3 percent of his threes. It takes a great clip to defeat San Miguel.

Hodge is reliable, while Allein Maliksi is a wild card. He consistently turns up.

Meralco has exceptional mental capacity because of the coaching combination of Nenad Vucinic and Luigi Trillo. However, Jorge Gallent of San Miguel is also no pushover.

Without Fajardo, San Miguel would have lost the chip handily to the Bolts.

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