MANILA, Philippines - It's the PBA playoffs once again.
It's the time of the year when players step up and turn into superstars. It's the time when the game intensifies and becomes even more physical. It's one of the best times to be a basketball fan.
This year's Philippine Cup has 2 sets of interesting match-ups in the best-of-three series and equally interesting battles for survival as the top-seeded teams with a twice-to-beat advantage take on cellar dwellers.
Here we have for you an assessment of the best-of-three matches and who we think will advance to the semifinals.
Ginebra vs Rain or Shine
Game 1: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 5:15 PM
Game 2: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 7:30 PM
Game 3: (If necessary) Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 6:30 PM
Ginebra and Rain or Shine's backcourt is a battle of seasoned veterans and young guns who are trying to make a name for themselves in the PBA, but who has the edge?
On paper, Ginebra's All-MVP backcourt of Mark Caguioa (2011-2012 PBA MVP), Jayjay Helterbrand (2008-2009 PBA MVP), and LA Tenorio (2012 Jones Cup MVP), looks the overwhelming favorite but one player this trio has yet to face in the current Philippine Cup is 2011-2012 Rookie of the Year Paul Lee.
Lee gives the Elasto Painters another potent offensive weapon outside of sharpshooter Jeffrei Chan and he's the type of player who can also create shot opportunities for his teammates.
In his first game back from an injury that had him sidelined in all but one game of the elimination round, he tallied 16 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds. Imagine how much better he can be. Last year, he gave the Ginebra backcourt problems and he can torment them the same way in this series with the help of combo guards Gabe Norwood and Chris Tiu.
That said, it's still a pretty even match-up as Ginebra's much-celebrated backcourt has the edge in playoff experience over the younger Rain or Shine.
The defense of Ginebra's athletic wings will be put to test against Rain or Shine's top gunner Jeffrei Chan. High-flying rookie Chris Ellis, who had been assigned the designated stopper in different occasions during the elimination round, will probably be tasked to shadow Chan.
The Elasto Painters' Ryan Araña and Ronnie Matias will also be key contributors. Ginebra's Allen Maliksi and Elmer Espiritu need to, at least, match the output of Rain or Shine's wings for their team to stay in the thick of it.
Yeng Guiao's squad has an interesting pair of big men who are bruisers down-low with a feathery touch from beyond the arc in Beau Belga and JR Quiñahan. They often find themselves open in rainbow country. Ginebra's bigmen need to make sure they don't give them clean looks.
Another thing Ginebra has to lookout for is the rising game of forward Jervy Cruz. He's had 2 career games in the elimination round and he gives the Painters a legitimate option in the paint.
Rain or Shine may have the advantage offensively but Ginebra's gang rebounding frontcourt has the advantage on the boards department and the extra possessions they come up with could be what pushes Ginebra to win.
It's an exciting match-up that could go either way. Despite Ginebra's winning record against Rain or Shine during eliminations, we see this series ending in Game 3 with the Painters advancing to the semifinals IF Paul Lee plays at a high level.
Alaska vs Meralco
Game 1: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 7:30 PM
Game 2: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 5:15 PM
Game 3: (if necessary) Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 4:15 PM
Meralco's Sol Mercado has been on a roll. He averaged 19.21 points, 6.5 assists, and 2.79 rebounds per game in the elimination round and it doesn't look like he's slowing down soon. He's been the most consistent Bolt so far in the tourney, but if Meralco wishes to advance to the semifinals, scoring guards Mac Cardona and Ronjay Buenafe need to put up numbers consistently.
Alaska has a deadly three-point shooting backcourt led by JVee Casio (37% 3PT-FGs) and Cyrus Baguio (39% 3PT-FGs) who can also damage in the open floor on both ends of the court. Baguio has shown the ability to elevate his level of play when needed to help his team get the win.
Meralco needs to be wary of RJ Jazul who has been hot from downtown shooting at an impressive 40% clip. Veteran Dondon Hontiveros hasn't been shooting all that well (29% 3PT-FGs) but he can catch fire anytime and shoot Alaska to victory.
If the Bolts' Mark Borboran and Sunday Salvacion fail to close out on Alaska's shooters then they could be in big trouble.
Perhaps the most interesting match-up in this series will be the one between two rookies known for their energy and hustle. Meralco's Clifford Hodge, picked 4th overall in the 2012 PBA draft, seemed to be ahead in the Rookie of the Year conversation until Alaska's Calvin Abueva, picked 2nd overall, officially entered the league after finishing his duty for the San Sebastian Stags.
Both players are capable of shifting the game's momentum with their style of play. So far, Abueva has been the more dominant player but Hodge might just show him up now that the stakes are higher.
The Alaska front court still has the advantage as they have more consistent contributors in Sonny Thoss, Mac Baracael, and Gabby Espinas. It would take a special effort from Meralco's Jay-R Reyes for the Bolts to gain the upper hand in the paint.
Unless Meralco figures out how to play better as a unit, the Alaska Aces will sweep this series dropping long bombs with "The Beast" Abueva piling up the boards.
Which teams do you want to advance to the semifinals? Let us know in the comments section below.
You may also read our breakdown of the twice-to-beat matches: Talk 'N Text vs Air21 and SanMig Coffee vs Petron Blaze.- Rappler.com