BARANGAY Ginebra and San Miguel Beer clash for the first time this season as Greg Slaughter and June Mar Fajardo renew their rivalry on Sunday in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Kings and Beermen enter the match in second and third place, respectively, in the 12-team standings and try to trim the gap from unbeaten Alaska.
The Gin Kings, who hold a 5-1 win-loss card, tangle with the Beermen, just a notch below at 4-1, starting at 5:15 p.m.
Focus is again on the Slaughter-Fajardo showdown, although a lot has changed since their first meeting in last season’s Governors Cup when the Kings came away with a 105-98 victory.
While San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria has been very vocal about Fajardo being the key in its offense, Ginebra coach Jeff Cariaso has been developing the triangle and spreading the scoring load.
Fajardo, the 6-foot-10 reigning PBA Most Valuable Player, has been consistent for San Miguel with 15.4 points, 13.0 rebounds, a league-best 2.8 blocks and 1.8 assists per contest this season.
But Austria said he is also looking to spread the offense since Fajardo is still trying to regain his strength after spending the offseason playing for Gilas Pilipinas.
“Slowly nakaka-recover na siya (Fajardo) dahil makikita mo yung pagiging member niya ng national team, eh mahaba-haba ang byahe nila. Di lang physically, but mentally din (need to recover),” Austria told Spin.ph on Saturday.
Austria was also quick to add that despite the attention Fajardo has been getting since the Philippine team’s recent international stints, he believes that the San Miguel star center knows his priorities.
“Lately, pursigido siya mag-practice. Di naman siya after sa individual awards. He wants to bring the team to a nice spot or position (in the playoffs),” he added.
Meantime, Ginebra is on a three-game roll since that stinging 97-81 loss to NLEX more than two weeks ago.
Cariaso has been preaching to his wards to play consistent, 48-minute defense, something the team has done pretty well.
“Defense has been our battle cry. So tomorrow will be one of our biggest tests,” said Cariaso, whose team is looking to tighten its grip at second spot and enhance its chances for an automatic semifinal slot.
“June Mar will be a handful and limiting his touches will be crucial.”
Although both teams have players who can score in bunches, the Ginebra-San Miguel match could possibly go down to which teams executes well and play better defense.
Ginebra is currently the second-best defensive team in the All-Filipino conference so far, holding its opponents to just 77.5 points, while averaging 92 points per contest.
But San Miguel is not far behind on defense, running third by limiting the opposition to just 78 points per match.
Forward Rico Maierhofer will be back to add the needed inside presence for the Beermen after missing the team’s last three games due to a knee problem.
Doug Kramer, though, will still be out due to an ankle sprain, which means longer playing time again for Fajardo.