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PBA: Star, Rain or Shine start q’final series

The Star Hotshots are expected to display their worth as one of the title contenders even after missing out on a twice-to-beat advantage as they face the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters today to begin their best-of-three quarterfinal series in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Star finished tied with Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and San Miguel for the league’s best record after the elimination round at 9-2, but fell to third on an inferior quotient to fall into the predicament of having to face the sixth seed Elasto Painters to formally kick off the second stage of the league’s midseason conference.

Fourth-ranked TNT KaTropa and the No. 5 Meralco Bolts, which likewise came up short in the twice-to-beat race, also start their own best-of-three affair today, eager to show that they are two of the top contenders for the championship.

The league has yet to release the schedule of both games at presstime, ditto with the two other quarterfinal matchups set for tomorrow between No. 1 Ginebra against the winner of last night’s playoff for the eighth spot between Alaska and GlobalPort, and No. 2 San Miguel opposite seventh seed Phoenix.

Ginebra and San Miguel need to win once in order to secure passage to the best-of-five semifinals.

Star, on the other hand, will have to go through a three-game series with Rain or Shine, which after a 3-0 start played inconsistent with two wins in its last eight.

But the Hotshots carry the psychological edge over the Painters, having won 99-93 in their lone elimination round encounter last May 6 in Batangas City. However, the two squads enter the series each with new imports.

Ricardo Ratliffe has been a vital presence in the paint for Star since replacing Tony Mitchell, while Duke Crews provides positives on both ends for Rain or Shine after parting ways with Shawn Taggart.

In the other series, Meralco looks to figure out a way to rediscover the form that allowed the orange-colored side to start the conference with four straight victories. The Bolts were in contention for a twice-to-beat but lost their final three games to settle for fifth after a 7-4 card.

TNT had an outside chance of making the top two, but settled for a pair of tight wins to finish the elims at 8-3 and third overall going into the quarters.

The battle of imports would likely highlight the series with Joshua Smith, TNT’s fourth import after Denzel Bowles, Lou Amundson and Donte Greene, manning the middle against Meralco’s hulking double-double machine Alex Stepheson.

Stepheson gave a glimpse of what he would eventually become in the tournament after going for 20 points and 27 rebounds in the Bolts’ 94-89 win over the KaTropa last March 25.