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Gin Kings face biggest threat to throne

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel – the most popular team in the Philippine Basketball Association – battles a crack invader from Bay Area when the it marches to the best-of-seven finals series of the Commissioner’s Cup on Christmas Day at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The royal encounter provides a lot of interesting backdrops that make it very exciting.

Bay Area is looking to become the first foreign squad to win a PBA title since Nicholas Stoodley reigned supreme in the 1980 Invitational tournament.

But it was the fabled Northern Consolidated Cement, which represented the country in major international tournaments, which holds the distinction of being the last guest team to win a PBA crown in the season-ending conference in 1985.

Bay Area head coach Brian Goorjian admits that there is pressure on them to join the ultra-elite circle of foreign conquerors, but they have to go through the Kings, who are being headed by the league’s winningest coach in Tim Cone.

Cone and the Kings are poised to play the role of Dragons slayers anew after becoming the first local team to beat the formidable squad from Hong Kong.

Ginebra beat Bay Area on 9 October, 111-93, giving import Andrew Nicholson a rude welcome in his first taste of PBA action since replacing Myles Powell.

Nicholson, however, will still stay as Bay Area import as the hot-shooting Powell is still recovering from an acute hyperextension injury on his left toe.

The National Basketball Association veteran said nothing can stop him from leading Bay Area to a historic performance – not even Ginebra and its massive supporters.

“I’m still looking forward to it,” said Nicholson, referring to his chance of gaining redemption against the Kings in a game where the stakes are high.

Aside from Ginebra, Bay Area’s only loss came at the expense of Meralco, which got the boot early in the tournament.

Goorjian, who led Australia to its first medal in the Olympics, said coaching against Cone, a 24-time PBA champion, in a best-of-seven series will definitely bring out the best in him.

“I’ve never been involved in a best-of-seven championship series,” Goorjian said.

“Every now and then, I’ve been involved in a best-of-five series, but never in a best-of-seven. It’s a great opportunity being there. But then again, we’ve got a battle in our hands.”

Ginebra import Justin Brownlee also has a lot of reasons to go hard against the visiting squad.

Billed as the gold standard among the current crop of reinforcements, Brownlee has his eyes fixed on the ultimate prize, which is his sixth title with the Kings that will enable him to tie with former Alaska import Sean Chambers with the most number of PBA crowns among guest players.

Brownlee, who is being eyed to serve as the country’s naturalized player in major international events, had already won five titles in his six tours of duty with the Kings.

But more than that, it’s also an opportunity for players – the young turks and the old guards – to take a crack at the midseason crown.

LA Tenorio, for one, had already rediscovered his shooting form while Jamie Malonzo and Jeremiah Gray are all thrilled to test their skills against an elite international club, knowing that a victory will be a major boost to their respective professional careers.

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