Tougher road ahead for Beermen
San Miguel Beer launched its bid for a record fourth straight all-Filipino title last week in the Philippine Basketball Association with its crack starting five all hitting in double figures against a Phoenix team still adjusting to a new coach.
June Mar Fajardo, seeking an unprecedented fifth straight Most Valuable Player award, Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross and Arwind Santos combined for 95 points in SMB’s 104-96 win over a Phoenix squad now handled by former Alaska assistant coach Louie Alas.
But going all the way won’t be a breeze this time for the Beermen with Meralco and NLEX flashing new offensive muscle after struggling as also-rans in previous Philippine Cup campaigns and Paul Lee now back in sizzling form after an injury for Magnolia, a consistent semifinalist while playing under the banner of Star in all three conferences last season.
Playing for his ninth team in his 13th season, KG Canaleta provided the biggest shock against his last squad as the Bolts downed the Blackwater Elite, 103-98.
Canaleta unloaded 19 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 25 with the injured Ranidel de Ocampo and Cliff Hodges watching from the bench of a Meralco team that finished with a 3-8 win-loss record in the eliminations here the last time.
NLEX, the cellar-dweller last year at 2-9, paraded a potential Rookie of the Year in Kiefer Ravena as the Road Warriors turned back the Kia Picanto, 119-115. Ravena flirted with a triple double in his debut with 18 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds although it was the veteran Larry Fonacier who dealt the killer blow on Kia with a four-point play that broke a 113-tie with barely a minute left.
Despite the loss, Kia drew praise for a strong stand in a game marked by 39 lead changes and 13 deadlocks.
It was more of a face-saving gesture for the Picanto, who were battered by experts for trading this year’s top draft pick Chris Standhardinger to SMB for three benchwarmers. The deal eventually led to the near-ouster and eventual resignation of Chito Narvasa as league commissioner.
Lee, the crafty guard who missed the last two games of the Governors’ Cup semifinal playoffs won by Meralco last October, set a new season high of 30 points in his return from sick bay for Magnolia which blasted Alaska, 108-95.
Rain or Shine also boosted its stock with an 82-79 decision of the TNT KaTropa, which missed the long bombs normally provided in the clutch by De Ocampo and Fonacier before they were traded last year to their sister teams.
Barangay Ginebra, last year’s runner-up, faced Magnolia in the Christmas Day mainer of a twinbill at Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, on Monday and likewise prevailed, 89-78.
Kiefer Ravena keyed NLEX’s second win in as many starts, a 115-104 win over shorthanded GlobalPort in the curtain raiser.
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