The stage is set for the 2018 PBA Philippine Cup with sister teams, San Miguel Beer and the Magnolia Hotshots dueling for the right to be crowned this year’s champion.
There is no question that the Beermen are the overwhelming favorites. They own one of the biggest and talented centers the league has today in June Mar Fajardo, complimented by tested veterans like Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter and Chris Ross. Their bench is no pushover as well with the likes of Matt Ganuelas-Rosser and Von Pessumal ready to render quality minutes.
However, the Hotshots are no pushovers. They have plenty of promising young cagers in the fold, no less led by Paul Lee and Ian Sangalang. Joining them are Jio Jalalon, Mark Barroca and PJ Simon, players who are no strangers to championships. But will this be enough to stop the powerhouse SMB squad looking to stretch its Philippine Cup dominance to four (years)?
The Hunger Factor
There is no question that both the Beermen and the Hotshots are hungry to become this year’s champion. The only question though is who wants it more.
Having won it three years in a row, one would think that the Beermen are in for a grind against a team who last won this specific tournament way back the 2013-14 season. Ironically, this was the year when Magnolia (then known as San Mig Coffee) accomplished a Grand Slam.
Holdovers from that team include Barroca, Simon, Sangalang and Rafi Reavis. Lee also saw action at the time, playing for the opposing team – the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. Now, all are huddled up in one team with one goal in mind: to be PBA Philippine Cup champions.
It will, however, not be easy. Hotshots head coach Chito Victolero needs to find a way to stop Fajardo, a behemoth that most PBA teams have had nightmares guarding. Sangalang and Reavis cannot do it alone, meaning double teaming or a swarming kind of defense may be needed to make sure that “The Kraken” does not dominate inside the paint.
These are some of the things that Victolero could do only that it opens up new problems. There is the offense of Lassiter, Santos, Cabagnot, and Ross, all of whom can penetrate or hit from outside. There will be gambles made which Victolero and company will have to stand by.
‘JBL’ advantage for Hotshots
While most see the frontline favoring the mighty Beermen, Magnolia does have an edge in the backcourt. Cabagnot and Ross are undoubtedly two of the best guards that can play both ends of the court. However, they are not 100-percent healthy.
Magnolia has its own weapon in “JBL” (Jalalon, Barroca, and Lee). All are healthy and have undoubtedly proven their worth. They have the spunk and firepower to match the SMB guards on any night. Consistency is what they would need throughout the PBA finals. If they are able to do so, such can tilt the balance a bit – particularly the immovable object named June Mar Fajardo.
Thus, all eyes will be on “JBL” plus the support coming from Sangalang and the Hotshots bench. Rome Dela Rosa, Bambam Gamalinda, Aldrech Ramos, Kyle Pascual and Rodney Brondial are expected to do their part, holding their own against the defending champions.
Coach Leo Austria and his Beermen seem to have the advantage on paper, not to mention the championship experience they have on their side. The Hotshots are undoubtedly underdogs although the tag is something that Victolero and company would prefer as they brace for a war-themed sister act PBA Philippine Cup finals.
Photos by Rio Leonelle Deluvio