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PBA: Tougher grind ahead for Beermen – Austria

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San Miguel Beer is spending the remainder of the year on top of the standings but head coach Leo Austria said they expect a tougher grind when hostilities resume next year.

After the defending champion capped 2016 with a convincing 101-86 win over Meralco to raise its record to a league-best 5-1, Austria is not convinced that it’s going to be easy as most teams will likely spend part of the holidays not celebrating but plotting to improve their position.

“That’s for sure, mas magiging mahirap ang labanan,” said Austria.

“Makikita naman natin na halos dikit-dikit ang teams, maski kami angat lang ng kaonti sa TNT at Rain or Shine. So kami ang inaasahan namin mas maging mahigpit ang labanan,” added Austria.

The league is taking a long break and will resume hostilities on Jan. 6 with SMB facing Blackwater at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

In the other game, GlobalPort goes up against Meralco.

The two teams are both on a slide. Batang Pier lost their second straight game following a setback to the Phoenix Fuel Masters (101-99), the Bolts absorbed their fourth straight loss.

San Miguel currently enjoys a one-game lead over TNT KaTropa and Rain or Shine which are currently tied for second at 4-2. Phoenix and Blackwater share fourth at 4-3.

GlobalPort are locked in a four-way for sixth with Star, Alaska and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel all with 3-3 records, while Meralco fell to 2-4. NLEX and Mahindra are at the bottom with identical 1-5 slates.

RoS mentor Caloy Garcia agreed that the fight for playoffs berths will intensify as only the top eight teams will advance after the one-round elimination round of the Philippine Cup.

“If you look at the team standings, halos dikit-dikit. So every game very important when the elimination round returns in January,” said Garcia as Rain or Shine meets red-hot Phoenix Fuel on Jan. 8 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Like the KaTropa and the Beermen, the Fuel Masters have won their last two following back-to-back defeats. Phoenix first downed Meralco (94-90) before scoring a come-from-behind win against the Batang Pier (101-99) on a tip in by forward Mark Borboran.

The tournament format will have the top eight teams earning quarterfinal slots – with the top two gaining twice-to-beat incentives opposite the seventh and eighth qualifiers.

The third to sixth teams will play in a crossover best-of-three quarterfinal showdown. The semifinal series will be a best-of-five series, while the final round is a best-of-seven affair.

The last four teams after the elimination round will be automatically eliminated from the playoff race.

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