THE flight to the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs is about to take off, waiting for just one more passenger before departing on Monday night starting with the two best-of-three series pairings.
Phoenix and TNT dispute the last ticket to the quarterfinals in a playoff on Sunday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
While both teams battle for the last playoff spot and the right to challenge top seed San Miguel Beer, the rest of the postseason participants are also gearing up for their respective foes as the other three match-ups are already set.
Here’s what the playoff path looks like for the rest of the protagonists:
The Batang Pier showed they can manage without Terrence Romeo as they split their first 10 games of the conference behind a balanced attack led by Stanley Pringle, Sean Anthony, and the serviceable, yet volatile Kelly Nabong.
Globalport was initially feeling it out when Romeo returned in the first half of their 104-100 loss to Phoenix on Friday night, but showed a glimpse of its potential with a full-strength squad in the second half where they almost totally erased a 31-point deficit before falling short to the Fuel Masters.
Still, the seventh-seeded Batang Pier will be in an uphill battle against twice-to-beat second seed Magnolia in the quarterfinals.
The Hotshots cruised past GlobalPort, 96-81, in their regular season matchup last February 16, although Romeo was still recovering from his knee injury that time.
If they can pull off an upset by beating the Hotshots twice, the Batang Pier can clinch only their second Final Four berth in franchise history and face the winner of the Alaska-NLEX pairing.
The Road Warriors finished the eliminations tied with Ginebra and Rain or Shine at 6-5, but dropped to sixth seed owing to having the lowest quotient among the three squads.
Still, NLEX looks to be on equal footing against third seed Alaska in the quarterfinals in a best-of-three series starting Monday.
Recent history is even on the side of the Road Warriors, who held off the Aces, 96-89, in the eliminations match-up last February 11.
Young guns Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas, and veterans JR Quinahan, Larry Fonacier, and Cyrus Baguio must all chip in for them to get over the hump after getting only to the quarterfinals last Governors’ Cup, gifting coach Yeng Guiao his first semifinal appearance at the helm, facing either Magnolia or GlobalPort.
5. Rain or Shine
The Elasto Painters seem to still be searching for their new identity under coach Caloy Garcia and their first Final Four appearance in the post-Guiao era. And they have a chance do so in their best-of-three series against fourth seed Ginebra.
The E-Painters had plenty of opportunities to dispatch the Gin Kings in their gruelling, triple-overtime match on Friday night, before surrendering a 100-92 decision to finish the eliminations tied with Ginebra at 6-5.
But if that’s any indication, expect another hard-fought skirmish between the two squads for a spot in the semifinals opposite the winner of the battle between SMB and either Phoenix and TNT.
The Gin Kings have a had a roller-coaster conference, having their longest win streak at just two games, seeing an alternating win-loss result in most of their games as they’ve been hampered by injuries to Joe Devance, Greg Slaughter, and Art dela Cruz.
While Devance has returned from foot surgery, Slaughter is in danger of missing the quarterfinals owing to a sprained ankle, while Japeth Aguilar is also questionable due to a bad back, compounding the Gin Kings’ woes.
At least they’re heading into the playoffs with some momentum with their triple-OT win over ROS that allowed them to finish the regular season at 6-5.
If the back-to-back Governors’ Cup champions are to prove their worth in an all-Filipino conference, then this is their first step, before they can arrange a potential all-Filipino finals rematch against the Beermen in the semifinals – if SMB takes care of business against whoever the eighth seed will be.
The Aces have been showing their old, fiery form that’s marked by their trademark suffocating defense to finish the eliminations at 7-4 for the third seed after missing the quarterfinals the last two conferences.
Whether their resurgence is for real or not will be known as they face the Road Warriors in a best-of-three series.
If the Aces, who lost to the Road Warriors in the eliminations, can get the job done, they will be making a return to the Final Four for the first time in since the 2016 Commissioner’s Cup where they reached the finals for the fourth time in five conferences, only to lose to Rain or Shine.
The Hotshots showed how scary they can be when fielding a complete team like they have been this conference to win eight of their 11 elimination-round games.
The Hotshots, who walloped the Batang Pier in the regular season, are fancied for a fourth straight semifinal appearance behind a guard-oriented offense led by Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Justin Melton, and Jio Jalalon.
If they get past the Batang Pier, the Hotshots are a step closer from ending a jinx as they can meet the winner of the Alaska-NLEX pairing.