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Moment of truth for Fuel Masters

After flashing its strongest form against injury-depleted Alaska following a scrambling win over hard-luck NorthPort, Phoenix Pulse now faces a crucial test against the three champions last year in its bid for a top Philippine Cup quarterfinal seeding.

Governors’ Cup winner Magnolia gets the first crack at Phoenix on March 6, Commisioner’s Cup ruler Barangay Ginebra San Miguel takes its turn on March 10 before defending champion San Miguel Beer provides the final challenge on March 16.

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Exploiting the continued absence of four ailing Alaska mainstays, the Fuel Masters crushed the Aces, 94-80, Friday to get a piece of the lead with lone tormentor Rain or Shine so far at 7-1 while securing one of eight quarterfinal slots.

Former Alaska stars Calvin Abueva and RJ Jazul and Matthew Wright struck hardest for the Fuel Masters with Aces Vic Manuel, JVee Casio, Kevin Racal, and Simon Enciso again watching from the bench.

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The win came after Phoenix had secured a 98-96 decision over a NorthPort squad missing top gunner Stanley Pringle and then lost a three-point shot with 47 seconds left by Sean Anthony on a wrong call by referee Noy Guevarra that the league later acknowledged.

Pringle, who shot 29 and 34 in his last two games, sat out the game for fighting with Columbian Dyip’s Jay-R Reyes during a recent tuneup match. Mo Tautua carried the fight for NorthPort with 22 points, but he missed two free throws just seconds before Anthony’s trey.

Magnolia goes into its match with Phoenix in high spirits after the Hotshots ended their three-game slump with a 92-86 win over the Meralco Bolts in Cagayan de Oro Saturday. Hotshot Jio Jalalon thrilled his hometown fans with 19 points, including three triples, nine rebounds and four assists.

The Gin Kings and the Beermen will be just as tough since both have strong chances to nail the top two slots after the eliminations and the twice-to-beat playoff bonus. The Beermen are running third at 4-3 followed by the Kings at 3-2.

It was a bad week for Meralco with the Columbian Dyip improving to 3-5 by nipping the Bolts, 86-85, last Wednesday before bowing to Blackwater, 106-100, two days later.

With a 2-5 record, Meralco now needs a lot of scrambling to make it to the top eight just like Alaska (2-2), NorthPort (2-3), NLEX (2-4) and Blackwater (2-6).

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