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Magnolia, San Miguel picked


Chemistry has been the most potent weapon of the Hotshots, whose greyhound guards have been causing problems against the rest of the field.


The quarterfinal cast is nearly complete with only the teams securing a bonus and the team clinching the last available playoff berth set to be determined in the final stretch of the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup.

But on top of my head, I see two teams who are likely to make a deep run in the playoffs and, possibly, have a great chance of going all the way: Magnolia and San Miguel Beer.

Despite dropping an 85-80 loss to Meralco in their last game of the elimination round, the Hotshots still found themselves at No.1 with a 9-2 win-loss record.

The Hotshots have to thank Phoenix Super LPG for cementing their  spot on top after it handed the Bolts a 93-83 beatdown last 10 January.

But being No.1 is just the tip of the iceberg.

Whether the Hotshots could stay No.1 at the end of the tournament and emerge as champions is another issue, but they are definitely one of the odds-on favorites to make a deep run to the playoffs with the way they’ve been playing all conference long.

Chemistry has been the most potent weapon of the Hotshots, whose greyhound guards have been causing problems against the rest of the field.

The combination of Mark Barroca and Jio Jalalon is probably the fastest guard combo out there and teams are having a difficult time keeping up.

Magnolia was also able to showcase more balance in its roster due to the emergence of James Laput, who had blossomed into one of the most efficient big men in the league today.

Laput has been a project player the past three years, but he had shown his true potential the moment he moved to the Hotshots and, right now, he has been playing significant minutes while submitting averages of 7.9 points and close to five rebounds in an import-laden tournament.

Health issues have always been the problem of the old Purefoods franchise the past few years and this time, its key players are coming back in full force with Calvin Abueva returning from a calf strain injury.

Magnolia has a core of key players composed of Barroca, Jalalon, Abueva, Paul Lee, Laput, the returning Ian Sangalang, new recruit Abu Tratter, Rome dela Rosa and Aris Dionisio and of course, its import Tyler Bey.

All tournament long, anyone among these players were able to make key contributions and given the fact that they have played together longer than the rest of the competitors, the Hotshots have the advantage in terms of chemistry.

But here comes San Miguel Beer and the good news is that it had welcomed the return of the league’s immovable force — seven-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo.

Fajardo played his first game after being sidelined for six weeks by a fractured left ring finger and it seems he’s ready to go all out come playoffs.

The Beermen are already assured of a playoff bonus and it’s only a matter of positioning whether they would end up at No. 2 or No. 3.

Still, they’re definitely favored against their playoff counterpart regardless of which position they end up with Fajardo and the other previously injured players like Jeron Teng and Kyt Jimenez, also returning to join forces with old reliables Terrence Romeo, CJ Perez, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross and Jericho Cruz, Don Trollano, and a trigger-happy import in Bennie Boatwright.

The Beermen are ready to roll out the barrel in the playoffs.

Phoenix is also guaranteed of a twice-to-beat advantage in the next round, Barangay Ginebra and Meralco are still fighting for the last playoff bonus while NorthPort, Rain or Shine are also in. TNT and NLEX are disputing the last playoff seat and worse, it might end up in a knockout for the last quarterfinals seat.

But for me, it’s going to be Magnolia and San Miguel who will make another deep playoff run.

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