WITH June Mar Fajardo back in peak form, Petron Blaze is favored to draw first blood in the opener of their best-of-three quarterfinal series against a dangerous Barako Bull side on Tuesday in the PLDT myDSL-PBA Philippine Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Game time is at 5:45 p.m.
The 6-foot-10 Fajardo is coming off a double-double performance of 19 points and 15 rebounds that helped the Boosters close out their elimination round campaign with a 96-87 beating of the Meralco Bolts.
Reigning MVP Arwind Santos noted that with Dorian Pena manning the paint for Barako Bull, the Energy managed to defeat a Fajardo-less Petron side in the elimination round.
But with their big man back in action, Santos believes the Boosters have a huge advantage.
“Yung last time na tinalo nila (Energy) kami, wala si June Mar. Eh malaking bagay si June Mar na pang-tapat namin kay Dorian,” the 6-foot-4” Santos said before the team’s Monday practice.
The 6-foot-7 wide-bodied Pena banged in 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in helping Barako Bull pull off a king-size 92-88 victory against Petron in the teams’ second duel for the conference.
Fajardo missed three games during the second round of the eliminations after spraining his right knee in December.
The center out of University of Cebu returned after three weeks and has played in the Boosters’ last three games.
But Barako Bull, which dropped an 80-89 loss to Alaska on Sunday, remains a dangerous bunch with veterans Dennis Miranda, Mick Pennisi, and Pena all motivated to play against their former team.
Pena actually never denied that he took pleasure in defeating his former squad, calling it a “sweet win,” and will be looking to help Barako Bull reprise the victory.
But while Pena played a huge role in that match, a key part in the Energy’s success this conference is their ability to knock down three-point shots in bunches.
In two of Barako Bull’s five victories this season, the Energy shot a combined total of 31 three-point shots made.
The Energy hit 17 three-point shots - the all-time most shots made by the franchise - in a regulation play in a 97-93 victory over Alaska on November 24, before peppering Meralco with 14 triples on the way to an easy 99-86 win.
Petron coach Gee Abanilla expects no less than a “grueling” week against Barako Bull.
“We have to consistently raise our level of play and be ready for the quarterfinal atmosphere against Barako," said Abanilla.
"Doing things right, being good at it, and continually improving every single game is very important for us if we want to be successful as a team."