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    COLUMN: Can SMB and Ginebra overcome twice-to-win disadvantage?

    Mar 13, 2022
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    SMB import Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Bishop of Meralco are set for a great rematch.
    PHOTO: PBA Images
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    CHICAGO - Hopeful of securing a twice-to-beat edge in the upcoming quarterfinals, San Miguel was praying hard for either Meralco or TNT to lose their assignments last Friday night.

    Apparently, the basketball gods are either deaf, or they don't drink beer because the sister teams from the MVP group handled their business against Phoenix and NorthPort, respectively.

    "We needed one of those teams to lose. We went from a No. 3 seed and having only to win one game (to advance to the semifinals) to now a No. 5," San Miguel import Shabazz Muhammad told me via text message.

    Beating Meralco twice not easy

    When I suggested that things would be different had he been the Beermen's import from Day One of this Governor's Cup, he agreed.

    "Yes, I feel if I got here early we would have definitely been the No. 1 seed."

    That's the common perception.

    But the reality is that San Miguel's path to the semifinals must now go through the rejuvenated No.4-ranked Meralco Bolts, who exorcised the ghosts of a three-game losing streak by finally showing the ability to protect a huge lead in dispatching Phoenix, 109-90.

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      It's not as difficult as the Twelve Labors of Hercules but beating Meralco twice won't be easy even though San Miguel has the nuclear option in Muhammad.

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      The Bolts are well-coached, are balanced on offense, solid on defense, and they have a foreign reinforcement, Tony Bishop, who is a strong candidate for Best Import of the Conference with averages of 28.4 points, 13.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.

      While the Beermen have the glitzy names - Fajardo, Romeo and Ross - the Bolts have some pretty good rough riders, too, including two guys named Chris - Banchero and Newsome. And they also have Aaron Black, Allein Maliksi and Raymond Almazan.

      I've said it before, San Miguel won't lose in a series. Shabazz is a constant threat to drop 50 at any moment and he is surrounded by arguably the best collection of local talents in the PBA.

      But the duel against Meralco ain't a series. It's a pair of knockout games. Win two or go home.

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      Will the Beermen bubble up and rise to the challenge, or will coach Leo Austria and his boys wilt under both the weight of expectations and the immense pressure to win?

      We will find out Wednesday night.

      WRIGHT AND ROB. Tonight's knockout match for the 8th and final playoff berth between Phoenix and NorthPort should be a dandy as it features two of the most exciting stars in the PBA.

      Performance-wise, both guards are a mirror-image of each other.

      Batang Pier's Robert Bolick is averaging 22.1 points, 9 assists and 6.6 rebounds a game in eight outings. He is shooting 43 percent from the field, 29 percent from 3 and 73 percent from the charity stripe.

      Phoenix's Matthew Wright, meanwhile, is shooting 39 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3 and 76 percent from the free throw line. Wright, who is Japan B.League-bound, sizzles with 18.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per.

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      Both stars are cold-blooded assassins who can take over a game late. They should cancel each other out and the key would be the support they'd be getting from the locals and their imports.

      However, whoever wins this battle has zero chance against No.1 seed Magnolia.

      GINEBRA VS TNT. I view Ginebra as a live underdog against the Tropang Giga but at the end of the day, TNT simply has too much firepower.

      Without Stanley Pringle, Mikey Williams is unstoppable.

      The twice-to-beat disadvantage that Tim Cone's chargers are facing may prove too tough too overcome. Ginebra has been too inconsistent throughout the conference to string together two perfect games against Chot Reyes.

      Looks like another empty, disappointing conference for the league's most beloved team.

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      SMB import Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Bishop of Meralco are set for a great rematch.
      PHOTO: PBA Images
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