SMART Clark Giga City - Barangay Ginebra and Meralco are on to a new chapter in their rivalry - in another setting with some new characters but with hardly a change over the odds.
Minus their PBA Governors' Cup three-time champion import Justin Brownlee and towering center Greg Slaughter, the Kings are still the overwhelming choice, but the Bolts are certainly taking their chances and waging a fight to extend their breakthrough in the all-Filipino tourney.
Thrice title protagonists in the Governors' Cup, the two teams take their rivalry to the Philippine Cup Final Four - a race to three games series beginning at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday at the Smart 5G-powered AUF Sports Center here.
The Kings topped the elims with an 8-3 win-loss slate then made short work of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the quarterfinals.
As the fifth seed, Meralco, on the other hand, was required to take the twice-to-win road to the semifinals.
But passing the test against five-time champ San Miguel Beer could well serve as extra fire lighting up the desire and determination of the Bolts to soldier on in their first all-Filipino playoffs in five years.
They have nothing to lose and everything to gain versus the Ginebra side that has been a cause of many a heartbreak and heartache in the past.
"They've been getting the better end of the match-up. Hopefully, we can change that this conference," said coach Norman Black.
The Meralco chief strategist is hoping the absence of Slaughter and the tweaks in the Bolts' lineup can make a difference.
There's Raymond Almazan who's providing them some ceiling, inside presence and defensive muscles.
"One thing we've never really had against them is we're never really had much size, and Raymond gives us a little bit of size," said Black.
Then there's Aaron Black, a Rookie of the Year contender fueled by a personal desire to help his dad/coach end a long title drought.
But the Kings are not lacking in manpower, firepower, experience, built-in system and myriads of other factors - except the absence of their Sixth Man now.
On Oct. 18, the Kings showed all of these in their 105-91 conquest of the Bolts.
But of course, this is an entirely new battle - the winner getting a shot at the coveted bubble crown versus the victor in the TNT Tropang Giga-Phoenix Super LPG duel. (SB)