BEING the eliminations topnotcher and gaining a relatively easy passage into the semi-finals do not give Phoenix Pulse too much comfort.
Especially when next up for the Fuel Masters is a San Miguel Beer side driven by its all-consuming desire to stretch its PBA Philippine Cup dominance.
"Four-time defending champion," said Phoenix coach Louie Alas on the eve of the start of the best-of-seven duel Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"Facing SMB is like facing the national champion. Ganu'n sila kabigat... at kalalim," added Alas.
Actually, the Fuel Masters are not bad themselves.
Phoenix got off to a 5-0 start in the season-opening tourney before using SMB as final stepping stone to top the elims, winning their encounter in Panabo City 96-93 last March 16.
It was the first time the Dennis Uy-owned franchise emerged No. 1 after the elims and it even scaled another plateau by needing just one game to dispose off eighth-seeded Alaska 91-76 in their quarterfinals matchup last Sunday to advance to its first-ever Final Four stint.
Still, the threat from SMB is very real.
Despite a rare fifth-place finish in the elims and an unfamiliar stint in a best-of-three quarterfinals under coach Leo Austria, the Beermen showed their punch is still there by hurdling tough TNT in three games, capped by a 96-86 win last Wednesday.
His team's performance over the KaTropa gave Austria ample reason to be guardedly optimistic.
"Phoenix is not number one for nothing. We should study well what kind of game we're going to do against Phoenix," said Austria after the last TNT game.
"They beat us in the eliminations... but I think we have a good chance to get to the next step, to defend our title," added Austria.
"I hope na iyung motivation namin for this (TNT) game madala namin for the Phoenix series. Hopefully, maka-pag adjust kami."
Those words are not lost on Alas and he is now hoping the basic game plan he has prepared would work - and be enough.
"Walo p'wedeng mag-double figures. Daming kailangang i-stop, plus super-experienced team," said Alas.
"Anyways, we need to pick our poison. I mean, dapat maximum of four SMB guys lang mag-click. Still figuring out how to contain (June Mar) Fajardo. Can't stop him. Just contain him," added Alas before rattling off SMB's other weapons in Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, Terrence Romeo, Alex Cabagnot, Christian Standhardinger, Von Pessumal, Kelly Nabong and Ronald Tubid.
"Of course, Arwind (Santos), their two-way player."
Fajardo should prove to be the biggest thorn.
The 6-10 center is averaging 22.09 points and 12.45 rebounds, both tournament best.
In the three-game duel with the KaTropa, the reigning five-time season MVP averaged 24.3 points and 14.3 caroms, capped by a 32-point, 14-rebound game in the last TNT match.
Phoenix may not have a dominant big man but so far has done well led by the all-around game of Calvin Abueva, Matthew Wright's snipings, and usual key contributions from Jason Perkins, Justin Chua, RJ Jazul, LA Revilla and Alex Mallari. (NC)