The defending champion San Miguel Beermen will face familiar foes Alaska Aces in the best-of-five 2018 PBA Commissioner's Cup semifinals.
The two teams have faced off in three PBA Final meetings from 2015 to 2016. The Beermen have the Aces' number with a 4-3 series victory in the 2015 Philippine Cup, a 4-0 sweep in the 2015 Governors' Cup, and a 4-3 win in the 2016 Philippine Cup where they came back from being down three games, a first in PBA history.
The Beermen come into this matchup the heavy favorites even though Alaska is the higher-ranked team.
"Their import is playing inspired basketball because he fits their system well. He knows the Philippine brand of basketball and they played very well in his two games this conference," said Beermen coach Leo Austria. "Although he's not contributing a lot on offense in scoring, he's the glue guy because he was able to make the team very cohesive."
Alaska replaced their original import Antonio Campbell with only one game left in their elimination round. Diamon Simpson stepped in and quickly built chemistry with the team as he helped secure two crucial wins against Phoenix to qualify for the top two and against Magnolia to reach the semifinals.
Simpson, who led Alaska to the 2010 Fiesta Conference championship, averaged 18 points, 19 rebounds, four assists, and four blocks in his first two games of the conference. He's only shooting 46 percent from the field but his defense and rebounding make Alaska a much better team.
Even though Simpson should be a big headache for the Beermen, Austria is more worried about slowing down Vic Manuel.
"Alaska is very dangerous because Muscleman is playing really well. I think in the past 11 games he has scored more than 20 points. He's very confident even if he's only playing 24 minutes per game so he's very efficient," Austria said.
Arwind Santos will likely draw the defensive assignment against Manuel.
"He'll be a big challenge for me," Santos said. "We all know that Vic is dominating in his position. I'll prepare myself very hard so I can defend him well."
The Aces are also without the suspended Calvin Abueva. Austria downplayed the absence, saying that the Aces are still dangerous.
"With or without Calvin, we'll have problems against Alaska," Austria said. "They don't give up. Every possession is important to them because of their suffocating defense and that's the reason why they were the first team to make it into the semifinals. ... You cannot underestimate Alaska because it's not talent that wins games all the time. It's the attitude, it's the hard work and that the reason why they are on top."