PBA quarterfinals preview: SMB seeks outright semis vs Air21
MANILA, Philippines - The San Miguel Beermen let go of Alex Cabagnot - their premier point guard for 5 seasons - in a one-on-one deal that brought Sol Mercado into the mix to jumpstart the conference.
Add Biboy Ravanes' appointment as team head coach along with Todd Purves as active consultant and San Miguel rolled to a 7-2 slate in the elimination round.
There is also a huge bonus the Beermen got from all the midseason switching: Chris Ross blossomed into one of the toughest and finest point guards in the league.
The speedy court general topped the eliminations in assists and steals, averaging 7.2 dimes and 2.8 interceptions per match.
He is stirring the Beermen offense while Mercado has been battling injury. Rounding of the Beermen's main cast are wing defenders and shooters Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, reigning MVP Arwind Santos, and reigning Philippine Cup Best Player June Mar Fajardo are all there to do damage.
Fajardo has been incredible in this season, dominating the paint for easy hoops and even extending his range all the way to 18-19 feet. He is averaging in double-double all season long, and will be San Miguel's force in the paint.
But there's ageless Asi Taulava who continues to defy the odds with discipline, and he doesn't care if a 6-foot-11 behemoth stands in his way.
"I'm looking forward to our match-up. We both want to make the semis. All the hardwork I put in the offseason are paying off," said Taulava, who claims his personal John Aquino has helped him stay impeccable top form.
The gritty Air21 Express, who finally got out of the cellar to gain quarterfinal entry, looks to stop San Miguel. Inspired plays by former De La Salle Green Archers Joseph Yeo (11.7 PPG) and Mac Cardona (11.1 PPG) helped them on the offensive end.
Yeo particularly is the Express' leader. He is having the season of his life, doing the dirty work, facilitating their plays, and hitting the big shots.
Both teams switched imports early in the tournament. San Miguel let go of Josh Boone while Air21 waived Herve Lamizana. The result was splendid as Kevin Jones and Wesley Witherspoon both gave the two contenders fantastic performances.
June Mar Fajardo (12.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG) vs Asi Taulava (12.2 PPG, 10.3 RPG)
Taulava hopes his fountain of youth could supply enough energy for his gigantic showdown against Fajardo. Already 41 years old, the 2003 PBA MVP is still primed for battle, logging 35 heavy minutes a game. His competitor, 17 years younger, will definitely give him a tough night inside the paint but Taulava wants to prove he is still prime timber.
San Miguel: Marcio Lassiter
Although known for hitting clutch treys, Lassiter is a tenacious defender. He is tasked to make life miserable for either Yeo or Cardona in this duel.
Air21: Aldrech Ramos
After the Express landed Ramos in a deal early this conference, the stretch forward scored 17 points right in his Air21 debut. However he has been silent, and this match-up will test if he can compete against the reigning MVP Arwind Santos.
Can San Miguel return to its winning tradition?
Petron Blaze switched back to San Miguel Beer, carrying the team name that brought home numerous titles to a historic franchise. The success will likely depend on Chris Ross because the PBA veteran is tired of being the backup, settling for less. Look for the FIl-Am to deliver the plays that could mean victory for the Beermen.
The journey back to the top begins in the showdown. Ross and the rest of the Beermen have a big opportunity to claim championship trophy number 20.
Wesley Witherspoon and Kevin Jones cancel each other out, so the toss-up between which locals will step up is a huge factor. Yeo and Cardona's firepower will be critical for Air21's offense. San Miguel will let Ross or Mercado facilitate and locate their teammates in and out. The duo of Fajardo and Santos up front may be the Beermen's edge.
San Miguel in 2.