TNT, Ginebra, SMB chase top spot

Cameron Clark is expected to step up as San Miguel Beer chases the top spot entering the quarterfinals of the PBA Governors’ Cup. Photo courtesy of PBA

Games Friday:

(Philsports Arena)

3 p.m. – San Miguel vs Rain or Shine

5:45 p.m. – TNT vs Ginebra

With the playoffs cast already complete, the race is on to determine who will emerge as the top team heading into the quarterfinals when the elimination round of the Philippine Basketball Association Governors’ Cup formally ends on Friday at the Philsports Arena.

Leader TNT Tropang Giga collides with Barangay Ginebra San Miguel at 5:45 p.m. while San Miguel Beer battles listless Rain or Shine at 3 p.m. with the chance to take the lead and post a strong finish at stake in this explosive doubleheader.

The Tropang Giga are clinging on to the top spot with a 9-1 win-loss record, but that could change should the Kings pull off a victory.

The Beermen also have the same mindset of trying to emerge on top should they prevail over an Elasto Painters squad that will be playing without an import.

It’s going to be the fourth time this conference for the Elasto Painters to field an all-Filipino crew as they opted not to bring in another import knowing that they no longer have a chance to catch the bus heading into the playoffs.

The Elasto Painters could only come up with two wins in 10 games and one of those victories was accomplished with an all-local lineup at the expense of Terrafirma last month, 120-118.

But winning against a depleted squad will not be a walk in the park for the Beermen as they will be playing without six-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, who will be sidelined for the next five weeks after tearing his medial collateral ligament.

Without Fajardo, import Cameron Clark provided the spark, scoring a career-high 45 points and 17 rebounds in powering the Beermen to a dominant 120-106 victory over NLEX late Wednesday at the same Pasig City venue.

The Beermen’s victory denied the Road Warriors a chance to clinch a twice-to-beat advantage while making a strong push for the top spot and a chance to face the eighth seed – Phoenix Super LPG – in the next round.

“It’s just about the players stepping up,” San Miguel coach Jorge Gallent said.

“They knew June Mar was injured. They just stepped up, which is good. They learned to play without the big boy. It’s good and I hope they will continue to play hard and play with a lot of effort.”

Gallent added that Fajardo’s absence is a perfect opportunity for everybody to step up as they chase the top spot.

“We have to really double up on offense and defense when June Mar is not here,” he said.

But if there’s one player who is also eager to get back from his injury, it’s Japeth Aguilar.

The Ginebra star only saw action for two games this conference but is looking at the playoffs as the perfect time for his return.

‘Yes, I’ll be back before the conference ends,” Aguilar told Daily Tribune.

“I just have to wait for the right opportunity once I’m better and can help the team.”

Aguilar suffered a similar MCL injury and is now about a week or two from completing his recovery.

The injury prevented the 6-foot-9 forward from also taking part in the final window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers as well as the PBA’s All-Star Weekend where he is supposed to skipper Team Japeth coached by Tim Cone.

For TNT coach Jojo Lastimosa, facing Ginebra is always a pleasure, especially now that the stakes are high.

“Either No. 1 or No. 2, it doesn’t really matter to me,” said Lastimosa, who had a lot of memorable battles with the league’s most popular team during his playing days.

“It’s just nice to win over Ginebra, but it’s still just an elimination game and even if we win, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to go deep in the playoffs.”

“What I’m trying to say is, it’s just one game and it just so happened that it is against Ginebra and I’m sure it’s going to be a nice game to watch and play in and I’m excited for that Friday game.”

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