From a team that seemed poised to enter the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup as the top seed, TNT suddenly finds itself treading on thin ice as the KaTropa fight for a spot in the top four.
The KaTropa will have to bring their A-game on Wednesday when they take on the Grand Slam-seeking San Miguel Beermen on the final day of the elimination round at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
But the timing seems perfect for TNT considering it will be facing a San Miguel side that has been undergoing internal turmoil as of late. Over the weekend, a scuffle broke out during the Beermen's scrimmage that reportedly involved import Dez Wells, Arwind Santos, Ronald Tubid and Kelly Nabong.
The incident doesn't bode well for San Miguel, which is chasing history by becoming just the second PBA team to win two Grand Slams after the legendary Crispa Redmanizers did the trick in 1976 and 1983. San Miguel won its first Grand Slam in 1989 under then coach Norman Black.
TNT coach Bong Ravena admitted that staying competitive is the key to beat SMB, a team that has learned to thrive in adversity after winning eight titles in the last four years.
"For me, we will simply try to stay as competitive as ever because we all know that San Miguel continues to be the standard in the PBA," Ravena told ESPN5.
TNT has zoomed to a 7-0 start in the Governors' Cup, before dropping its last three games to NLEX, Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia.
Without the injured Jayson Castro, things have certainly changed for TNT as the team rides on the energy and all-around effort of do-it-all import KJ McDaniels.
"KJ is a very important piece for the team. We badly need his output every game because where he goes, the locals simply follow," Ravena explained. "And honestly, KJ is a gem of a player because he gives us both offense and defense and he's got such an amazing attitude."
McDaniels, the Philadelphia 76ers' 32nd overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, is averaging 36.4 points, 14.11 rebounds and 5.1 assists through seven games this conference. His impressive stats line also includes 3.3 blocks per contest, along with 1.0 steals while making 53 percent of his shots.
Grand Slam in mind
The Beermen, on the other hand, have struggled in its last six games, winning just twice after starting 4-0.
Prior to the SMB internal squabble, Leo Austria told ESPN5.com that the road to a Grand Slam is not going to be a walk in the park.
"I tell you, there are no easy games now. We all know that every team is building up this conference. You can see it with the way they have been getting NBA-caliber imports," Austria said.
San Miguel is coming off a 91-85 defeat to Rain or Shine over a week again during their out-of-town game in Lapu Lapu City.
New import John Holland, stepping in for the injured Wells, had a forgettable PBA debut after scoring just 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the field. He added 10 rebounds and 6 assists in over 37 minutes of play.
For the Beermen to get their bearing back, everyone will have to thresh out their differences or they can kiss their Grand Slam hopes goodbye.
A win by San Miguel, though, would mean securing a twice-to-beat advantage heading into the playoffs.
San Miguel can snare the 4th seed automatically with a win, which will drop TNT to 5th spot. But if the Beermen can beat the KaTropa by 14 points or more, they'll enter the playoffs as the 3rd seed. Barangay Ginebra would end up as the 4th seed, while TNT would settle as the 5th seed.