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Six-way fight for 3 quarterfinal slots

The top five quarterfinal slots have been secured but the last three remaining berths will be a six-team race going into the last five playing days of the ongoing PBA 2019 Commissioner’s Cup.

The TNT KaTropa and the NorthPort Batang Pier kept their leading 1-2 positions for the win-one bonus with contrasting wins last week even as Blackwater, defending champion Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia solidified their positions among the next four qualifiers that will figure in separate best-of-three series to reach the semifinals.

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The KaTropa improved their win-loss record to 9-1 with a 115-97 whipping of the Blackwater Elite last Sunday after the Batang Pier had slipped past the Columbian Dyip, 110-108, early in the week to keep second place at 8-2.

While the loss ended its bid for a top two finish, Blackwater can finish third at 6-5 with a win over Alaska in its last game and draw the No. 6 and supposedly the weakest qualifier to the best-of-three playoffs.

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Ginebra later tied Blackwater for third at 6-4 with the Gin Kings ripping the Magnolia Hotshots, 102-81, as Justin Brownlee sizzled with 49 points also Sunday. The Kings wind up their schedule against Columbian.

Magnolia dropped to fifth at 5-4 going to its last two games against Rain or Shine and TNT.

Phoenix Pulse and Rain or Shine are the leading contenders for the No. 6 berth with identical 4-5 records, but San Miguel Beer, now reinforced by former NBA veteran Chris McCullough, looked set to salvage the last premium slot and avoid the twice-to-win burden of the last two qualifiers.

The Beermen replaced Charles Rhodes, who was named Best Import when SMB won this event in 2017 and McCullough quickly showed his worth by scoring 47 points in his debut against tournament doormat NLEX (2-8).

McCullough fired 45 points alone in the first three quarters to give SMB a 97-69 lead before the Beermen relaxed and settled for a 109-105 win. At 3-5, SMB will have to go for broke in its last three games against Phoenix, Rain or Shine and Meralco to keep its bid alive for a second straight title after its record fifth straight championship in the recent Philippine Cup.

Meralco (3-6) and Columbian Dyip (3-7) remained in contention but both will need lots of luck to contend for the last two slots that will need to beat the top two qualifiers in the quarters.

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