Mar 15, 2019

Can Phoenix finish at number one?

Will Phoenix Pulse secure a breakthrough elims top finish? Or will San Miguel Beer sustain its rise and muddle up the fight for elims top honors?

These questions will be answered as the Petron Blaze Saturday Special swings over to Panabo, Davao del Norte, featuring the Fuel Masters and the Beermen in a crucial clash at the Panabo Multi-Purpose Tourism, Sports and Cultural Center.

The Fuel Masters go for a 9-2 (win-loss) closing card while the Beermen look to improve to 7-3 in the 5 p.m. tiff.

Coach Louie Alas and his troops erase all possible complications as they automatically claim No. 1 finish in the one-round-robin elims if they beat the Beermen.

A loss, however, could mean possible finish outside the Top Two.

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The Fuel Masters had had two cracks at claiming a Top Two spot and a twice-to-beat bonus in the quarterfinals but dropped the first one in a 97-100 loss to the Barangay Ginebra Kings.

The Beermen, meanwhile, rallied into contention for the win-once quarters incentive on a four-game romp where they rolled past the Blackwater Elite (93-79), the Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots (113-92), the NLEX Road Warriors (121-111) and the NorthPort Batang Pier (113-107).

"We're still aiming for the Top Two," said SMB coach Leo Austria, hinting at going all out in a bid to sweep their two remaining games.

"Clich? it may be, but we'll really take it one game at a time. Focus kami ngayon on our game against Phoenix," Austria also said.

With both aiming for the top, the Fuel Masters and the Beermen could engage in a virtual dogfight.

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The Fuel Masters are likely push the ball hard while the Beermen are expected to dump the ball on June Mar Fajardo at the post like they did in their win the last time over the Batang Pier where the 6-foot-10 Cebuano behemoth exploded for 40 points on top of 19 rebounds.

With no one to put up singlehandedly against Fajardo, the Fuel Masters are likely to work on a pressing defense, doubling at the post and playing up-tempo on offense.

The match will have marquee matchups in Arwind Santos versus Calvin Abueva and Marcio Lassiter versus Matthew Wright.

Jason Perkins will be terribly outmatched by Fajardo size-wise, but the Fil-Am frontcourt operator could battle with his quickness, hustle and perimeter shooting. (SB)