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PBA: Three games set today at Cuneta

Ginebra's Greg Slaughter scores against Jr Quinahan of RoS.   Photo by Tony Pionilla

Games Today (Cuneta Astrodome)
2 p.m. – Purefoods vs Barako Bull
4:15 p.m. – Blackwater vs San Miguel
7 p.m. – Globalport vs Meralco

Manila, Philippines – It would seem, at this point, that only Typhoon Ruby might be capable of putting a halt on San Miguel Beer’s march to the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals. Expansion team Blackwater, of course, is welcome to whip up a storm.

With Rain or Shine beating everybody else, including the oncoming tempest, to the first of two automatic Final Four slots, weathering a late surge by Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 100-90, last Sunday, the Beermen go for the clinching 9th win at 4:15 p.m. today at the Cuneta Astrodome.

Though an upset isn’t entirely ruled out, the elements needed to produce one don’t appear to be present.

From its long history of winning, its maturity and experience to June Mar Fajardo, San Miguel offers varied matchup problems that could be too many and too complex for the young Elite to solve.

Blackwater could choose to grind down the pace to a crawl, taking full advantage of the shotclock to set up the best possible offensive option while lessening its turnover ratio. But even that would be negated if SMB applies heavy fullcourt pressure on the Elite point guards, dragging them out of the comfort of their half-court game and quickening the pace to the Beermen’s taste.

Then there’s the big question on Blackwater’s defensive capability.

Who’s going to take on Fajardo one-on-one to avoid leaving one SMB shooter open? Blackwater has the choice to throw a tight zone and clamp down on the hulking 6-foot-10 center while taking its chances against the Beermen gunners, hoping Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz and Jeric Fortuna would come up with bricks.

Regardless, however, Fajardo may be too big and strong and too agile to contain for 48 minutes and is likely to break out of any double-teaming wall built around him, wreaking havoc inside as soon as he does so.

Stopping SMB’s transition game, fueled by Fortuna, Sol Mercado and Chris Ross, is another hellish dilemma for Blackwater which could find itself fouling in desperation or stepping aside in hapless capitulation.

Veterans Eddie Laure, Sunday Salvacion, Larry Rodriguez and Paul Artadi could keep things brewing if their shots fall early, and frontliners Bryan Faundo, Jason Ballesteros, Gilbert Bulawan, Ogie Menor and Alex Nuyles won’t shy away from the banging as the Elite search for their first win of the season on their last game of the conference.

It would be up then to the Beermen to assert themselves or risk falling victim to Typhoon Blackwater. If that happens, resulting in a 3-way tie among SMB, Talk ‘N Text and Alaska, the Aces will make it, having beaten both teams in the elimination round.

In other games, the cancelled Dipolog City game between Grand Slam champion Purefoods Star and Barako Bull, with former Energy center Mick Pennisi moving to the Hotshots after a recent trade, opens the triple-header at 2 p.m., while Globalport takes on Meralco at 7 p.m.

Unless the rains wash out today’s schedule or Blackwater shocks SMB, the two-phase quarterfinals kick off on Thursday, with the twice-to-beat 3rd to 6th-placed teams facing the twice-to-win 7thto 10-ranked teams in matchup pairings The four emerging teams then go into the crossover knockout phase to choose the two other semifinalists.

As things stand, assuming SMB (8-2) makes it as an outright semis qualifier and no unseen complication arises, No. 3 Alaska (8-3) will face No. 10 NLEX (4-7) in the playoffs, No. 4 Talk ‘N Text (8-3) will take on either Meralco (5-5), Globalport (5-5), Purefoods (5-5) or Barako Bull (4-6), No. 5 Barangay Ginebra (6-5) will be up against anyone from the Bolts, Batang Pier, Hotshots and Energy, while the No. 6 slot remains up for grabs.

Ginebra could wind up as the No. 6 team, however, if Meralco prevails over Globalport and Barako Bull beats Purefoods. The Bolts defeated the Kings, 109-99, in the elims.

If Globalport wins, the Batang Pier, who routed the Kings, 98-77, will secure the No. 5 slot regardless if the Hotshots beat the Energy.

Manny Pacquiao’s Kia Motors (1-10) and Blackwater (0-10) are both out of playoff contention.