Manila Clasico. San Miguel-TNT corporate rivalry. The 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 match-ups in the 2019 PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals promise to be explosive. ESPN5.com PBA writer Chuck Araneta tackles some burning questions regarding both best-of-three series, which get going Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Can TNT's defense compensate for its offensive struggles?
On paper, this has to be one of the strangest questions for the TNT KaTropa. After all, this is a lineup that boasts of one of the greatest guards in PBA history in Jayson Castro leading the charge alongside sweet-shooting Troy Rosario, and red-hot Roger Pogoy. TNT boasts of depth at every position, with shooters ready to fire at will if Castro finds them in penetration, or a Kelly Williams read to smash every missed shot with a dunk that belies his age.
However, for the TNT KaTropa, the stats don't lie. And shockingly, they have struggled on offense this conference.
The KaTropa average 92.0 points per contest, which is eighth best amongst the 12 teams in the Philippine Cup. The team's 39.7 field goal shooting is 10th overall in the league, and their three-point shooting is at 11th place at 29.5%.
In the team's four losses in the elims, TNT averaged 80.7 points per contest, indicating that when the team is unable to get its scoring going, it could cause a lot of problems.
But offense is only one side of the equation. The reason why the KaTropa has been one of the best teams this conference is their vastly improved defense. Surrendering only 89.5 points to opponents, which is the third lowest in the league, TNT's swarming, disciplined defensive scheme has confounded opponents, including San Miguel in its 104-93 victory.
There's no question that the KaTropa's defense will give the Beermen fits on occasions. But will they have enough offense to hang with the defending champs?
Has San Miguel found the right rotation for victory?
There is no question that San Miguel remains the team to beat. June Mar Fajardo has never looked better and has even added some new tricks to the arsenal. Averaging 22 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, the five-time MVP has been stellar, and still the biggest matchup nightmare in the league.
You could say the same for the rest of the championship core. Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos, and Chris Ross continue to chug along, posting brilliant numbers at both ends of the floor. The team is putting up 105 points per contest with an unstoppable combination of inside scoring and some of the best shooters in the league.
So really, whether San Miguel finishes first or eighth, any squad will be hard-pressed to stop them. But there's one for San Miguel that will be fascinating to watch in the quarterfinals.
Where do Terrence Romeo and Christian Standhardinger fit in this equation?
This is not to say that these two stars should be left by the wayside. Far from it. Rather, what is the sweet spot for the team in terms of minutes distribution and roles on the floor?
At different times in the elims, both Romeo and Standhardinger have missed time due to injuries. Romeo and Standhardinger played seven and six games, respectively, out of a possible 11, taking away valuable time together to jell with the team. When they are on the floor, it hasn't always been at the same time. So now that the team is in the Playoffs, how will the Beermen, boasting a complete lineup, look like? Will Fajardo and Standhardinger coexist on the floor together, or is the Filipino-German better-served splitting minutes with The Kraken? At the end of the day, this could all be a moot point. On a team full of veterans, the Beermen have reloaded, with two stellar players. They are the favorites by a mile. However, TNT has a small window to try to exploit the Beermen incorporating new pieces on the fly. Can they catch lightning in a bottle against San Miguel?
How crazy will Quarterfinals Clasico be?
The basketball gods seemingly went all out early in the conference, rewarding fans with a titanic matchup featuring the Magnolia Hotshots against Barangay Ginebra. Last season, we got these two teams going head to head in the semifinals of the Governors' Cup, and each game was an instant classic.
Now, they resume their already tense rivalry.
Both teams are known for relentless defense. The Hotshots have the top defense in the league, giving up only 87.3 points to their opponents, with Ginebra not far behind at second place with teams only scoring 89 points against them.
They do it in different ways. Magnolia creates chaos in the backcourt, with Mark Barroca and Jio Jalalon conspiring to frustrate opponents and keep them from getting into their offense properly. Ginebra, however, will not make any mistakes on defense for 24 seconds, and will force teams to have to make some terribly difficult shots to beat them.
This is why Magnolia versus Ginebra is such a fun matchup. The way both teams play creates so much inherent drama because every basket is so valuable. In their regular season match, the game was sent into overtime after the Hotshots completed a thrilling fourth quarter comeback capped by a booming triple by Jio Jalalon. Ginebra was eventually able to seal the deal in the extra period, behind monster performances from Japeth Aguilar and Scottie Thompson down the stretch.
But the Hotshots remain confident. They have a series victory against Ginebra in the Governors' Cup, and are carrying an air of confidence that has been molded by their championship last conference. However, Ginebra is battle-tested, with the greatest coach in PBA history patrolling the sidelines.