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PBA: SMB, Alaska gun for outright semis

James Yap, Jimmy Alapag

Nine wins.

That’s basically the ‘magic number’ for leaders San Miguel Beer and Alaska as they shoot for outright semifinal berths against separate foes in the PBA Philippine Cup today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Alaska first takes the floor when it tackles surging Rain or Shine at 4:15 p.m., while equally red-hot San Miguel Beer meets dangerous Talk ’N Text in the main game at 7 p.m.

At the moment, SMB and Alaska occupy the 1-2 spots in the standings with the Beermen holding an 8-1 record and the Aces carrying an 8-2 card. If they win, the two teams will finish the elimination round 1-2, thus earning the playoff bonus of automatic spots in the semifinals.

A victory is more important for the Aces as they try to avoid any complications because a setback to the Elasto Painters will dim their chance of getting that incentive, with ROS – and possibly TNT – tying them at 8-3.

Rain or Shine is at third place with a 7-2 slate and will still play Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on Sunday at the Big Dome, while Talk ’N Text is at solo fourth sporting a 7-3 record.

“Our game against Rain or Shine is really like a quarterfinal series in one day. It should be an excellent game for the fans,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton, whose team is nursing a 101-92 defeat to Ginebra last Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“Obviously, they are (Painters) one of the best teams in the league over the past years, and they are playing the best basketball in the PBA right now. Coach Yeng (Guiao) knows how to lead his guys in these kinds of games and the players always seem ready. We hope to put our best effort yet on the floor,” added Compton.

A victory by Rain or Shine will earn the team a solid chance to obtain that outright semifinals spot, and with the way the Painters are playing, they are slightly favored to beat Alaska. The last time Rain or Shine played, only 10 players were in uniform but Guiao rotated just nine as he gave ace shooter Jeff Chan a rest after missing three practice sessions due to flu.

Still, Rain or Shine found ways to beat Grand Slam champion Purefoods (83-74) that extended its winning streak to five games.

“Semis slot is at stake,” said Guiao. “Alaska is formidable this conference, they’ve found a formula for winning. They’ve adopted a new system away from a deliberate half court triangle to a motion offense with a pressing defense.”

“We have to find an antidote if we want this semis slot. If not, we just have to do it the long and hard way,” added Guiao.

Chan is expected to play and boost Guiao’s team with Paul Lee, Gabe Norwood, TY Tang, Beau Belga, Ryan Arana, JR Quinahan, Raymond Almazan and rookie Jericho Cruz. Still listed as day-to-day are Chris Tiu (hamstring), Jeric Teng (hamstring) and Jervy Cruz (calf).

As for Alaska, Compton will rely on mainstays Calvin Abueva, JVee Casio, Sonny Thoss, Cyrus Baguio, Tony dela Cruz, Dondon Hontiveros, Eric Menk, RJ Jazul and rookie Chris Bachero.

On the other hand, Talk ’N Text will try to delay San Miguel Beer’s bid to be the first team to advance to the semifinals as the Tropang Texters shoot for a fourth straight win as they are fresh from a 100-96 overtime victory over the Hotshots last Wednesday.

If that happens, SMB will have an 8-2 record and TNT will finish the elimination round at 8-3, still in the fight for that outright semis berth assuming that Alaska and ROS also finish with the same record.

In case of ties, quotient system will be applied.

If San Miguel Beer loses, the June Mar Fajardo-led team will still have a chance to claim that automatic semifinals slot as the Beermen will battle winless expansion team Blackwater Elite in the last day of elims on Tuesday.

The 10-team playoff cast is already complete after Meralco edged expansion team Kia (99-93) last Wednesday. In the quarterfinals are Ginebra (6-4), Globalport (5-5), Meralco (5-5), Purefoods (5-5), Barako Bull (4-6) and NLEX (3-7).

The third to sixth teams will earn twice-to-beat incentives in the crossovers playoffs against the seventh to 10th qualifiers.

Kia (1-9) and Blackwater (0-10) are already eliminated.