The fact that the PBA will soon be resuming in the Clark bubble the Philippine Cup, which will constitute its entire 45th season, already sets the stage for must-see TV, especially for basketball-starved Pinoys who have been waiting for what seems like forever.
Practically every game will provide some sort of interesting matchup and pique the curiosity of fans who are expecting players to release all their pent-up energy in hard-fought and highly-entertaining battles in a wide-open tournament, largely due to the absence of six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo from the five-time defending champion San Miguel Beermen lineup. Below are five of the most potentially explosive face-offs that could take place at Clark during the elimination round.
1. The Perez-Adams combo takes flight (Terrafirma Dyip vs. TNT Tropang Giga, October 13, 6:45 pm) - TNT has always had one of the most formidable lineups (Jayson Castro, RR Pogoy, Troy Rosario, and Ray Parks, Jr, to name a few of them) and now will parade a legitimate center in JP Erram, whose career blossomed after his first stint with the team. He returns as a more polished player on both ends, who just might be the last piece in the TNT puzzle to complete a championship run.
However, they will face a Terrafirma squad that fans are eager to see. After all, when was the last time a team will be fielding two straight number one picks in CJ Perez and Roosevelt Adams? Can the Dyip be as effective as they will be exciting, with a potential run-and-gun type of attack? While lacking in ceiling, the Dyip have hard-working undersized front liners who must assert themselves so Perez, Adams, Rashawn McCarthy, et al. can take off on the break. Can Erram and company stymie the young guns of Terrafirma? Perhaps, if they can keep up.
2. "Clark Clasico" (Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok vs. Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, October 25, 6:45 pm) - In recent years, Ginebra has dominated this matchup, but that does not take away the anticipation and determination that accompanies this long-standing battle between squads that are not too fond of each other and usually seem to give fans quite a treat. The Manila - or in this case, Clark - Clasico rarely fails to stir up emotions and, while fans will not be in the venue to cheer and jeer, surely, they will be interested to see if Magnolia can turn things around, especially since the boisterous Barangay crowd will not be around to lift Ginebra's spirits as it usually does.
Watch out for a veteran-dominated attack from both sides (Japeth Aguilar, Mark Caguioa, LA Tenorio, Joe Devance, Jeff Chan, Scottie Thompson, Stanley Pringle for Ginebra; Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Ian Sangalang, Chris Banchero, Rafi Reavis for Magnolia), since they each have battle-scarred, championship-tested warriors who know what it takes. Sadly, PJ Simon (retired) and Marc Pingris (injured) will not be there to participate this time.
3. Erram faces old team (NLEX Road Warriors vs. TNT Tropang Giga, October 29 6:45 pm) - NLEX tried Erram as its big man, but that did not work out. Now that Erram is with TNT, perhaps he wants to show his former team a little something about what they will be missing after letting him go. That is one of the interesting angles that this game provides. Of course, the ancient rock Asi Taulava and the other NLEX big men (and there are quite a few) will want to shut the door on Erram's and TNT's faces. The guard matchups are intriguing as well. Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas get a chance to show how they've progressed against Castro and company, but you can't sleep on guys like Kenneth Ighalo, Bong Galanza, and Philip Paniamogan, who showed last season that they can do lots of damage from the outside. On paper, TNT may look like it has an edge, but the Yeng Guiao-coached Road Warriors can be as fiery as he with the proper motivation.
PBA rookies' dream matchups
PBA rookies' dream matchups
4. Sister Act with no Kraken and Gregzilla (San Miguel Beermen vs. Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, October 30 6:45pm) - There is always talk about these two being "sister teams", but whenever they get on the floor to play, you would hardly guess that due to the intensity and fierceness with which they engage. There is no Kraken vs. Gregzilla in the middle this time as Fajardo (injured) and Greg Slaughter (unsigned) are not around, but there are several other head-to-heads that could potentially make this one a classic.
Moala Tautuaa is now SMB's starting big man and, if he can take off from his performance in the lone game so far this season, where he was the Best Player, then the center slot is secure for his team. Four of the "big five" of Leo Austria are still around (Arwind Santos, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, and Alex Cabagnot), and don't forget Terrence Romeo. Ginebra's veterans will need to play at a high level to match the Beermen, who feel they own this conference and, as defending champs five times over, will not give up their crown without a fight. Surely, the Tim Cone vs Leo Austria sideline strategies are also a must-watch, with both men being multi-titled coaches with lots of pride.
5. ROS frontline vs.....The Beast? (Rain or Shine Elastopainters vs. Phoenix Super LPG, October31 6:45pm) - Will the Beast be back? If Calvin Abueva gets the green light and is allowed to play, rest assured that he will want to make up for lost time, which justifies the inclusion of this game on this list. He will be a Tasmanian devil all over the court trying to wreak havoc on the opponent for sure, although surely on a more even-tempered basis.
Rain or Shine has the personnel to challenge Abueva and the rest of Phoenix team, which has Matthew Wright, Jason Perkins, Alex Mallari, and RJ Jazul, among others - all tough competitors. Big Beau Belga is at the center of the action on the ROS side. Belga is not only a premier big man in the league, but is also now a team leader who, with James Yap and Gabe Norwood, gives the team a strong backbone -the kind of backbone needed to withstand a younger but hungry opponent. Javee Mocon, a tough sophomore, could very well be the man they will use to mark The Beast, should the latter finally make it on the floor for some PBA action.
Now, if for some reason, The Beast is not unleashed in the bubble, which would greatly diminish the ROS-Phoenix matchup listed above, then take notice also of the game between Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and Rain or Shine on October 27 at 6:45pm. Belga said he was "disappointed" that there will be no fans in the stands because he loves playing before the Ginebra crowd, but make no mistake about it, he will be shooting his shotgun and pistols at imaginary fans or into the cameras regardless. Rain or Shine-Ginebra games are usually intense and physical, which equates to fun viewing for fans.
The PBA bubble is just around the corner. It's almost time to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the games, with particular attention given to these ones. Mark them down in your calendars.