Two of the winningest franchises in the PBA will battle in the 2018 Philippine Cup best-of-seven finals series starting Friday, March 23.
The San Miguel Beermen are aiming for their 25th championship, while the Magnolia Hotshots are looking to win their 14th. San Miguel, however, is also trying to become the first team to win four straight All-Filipino titles.
"Is this destiny or dynasty? I told them this is a tradition. I hope it becomes a tradition for us to always win the All-Filipino conference," said SMB coach Leo Austria. "I hope we sustain this tradition."
June Mar Fajardo, to no one's surprise, is leading the Best Player of the Conference race but he wants this championship more than any individual award.
Most of all, he wants payback.
"I can never forget during my rookie season, they gave me my first championship heartbreak. They made me cry," the four-time MVP said. "That was my rookie year. This is payback time."
This is the first time in four years Magnolia has been back to the finals. Now, the Hotshots have the chance to restore past glory.
"It's been four years before we got back to the finals. A lot has changed but I'm happy because we'll get to experience playing in the finals again. Even though there were many changes with the team, we have great chemistry," said PJ Simon.
Even though Magnolia is a storied franchise, coach Chito Victolero knows they are the underdogs in this series. But he believes, even champions can be beaten.
"In order to beat San Miguel we need to have A-games from all of my players," said Victolero. "We need to have a solid, almost perfect game to beat the defending champion because they're well experienced and have good chemistry as well."
Paul Lee is fairly new to Magnolia, but he said the Hotshots should not be underestimated even without the services of Marc Pingris, who is out with an ACL injury.
"We're playing with our hearts. Even though we don't have Ping, that's what he has rubbed off on us," said Lee. "If we really wanted to, we can get at least one win. ... Until we reach four wins."