June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer in action against Meralco. | PBA Images

Who can stop June Mar Fajardo?
Nelson Beltran (philstar.com) - January 2, 2018 - 1:50pm

MANILA, Philippines – Which team can stop San Miguel Beer’s reign as PBA Philippine Cup champ and who can end June Mar Fajardo’s dominance as the league’s best player?

In the initial burst of action in the all-Filipino tourney at the end of 2017, Fajardo and the Beermen showed clear signs they are still the team to beat, starting their quest for a four-peat with back-to-back triumphs over the Phoenix Fuel Masters (104-96) and the Meralco Bolts (103-97).

And Fajardo was in his dominant self, hinting at possibly establishing a record fifth MVP run at the end of the season.

Last campaign, Fajardo joined Ramon Fernandez and Alvin Patrimonio in an elite list of four-time PBA MVP winners.

The 6-foot-10 Cebuano behemoth started the new season with a double-double game of 23 points and 16 rebounds versus the Fuel Masters and followed it up with 26 markers, nine boards, one block and one assist against the Bolts.

And through the first two weeks of the tourney, he’s among the early pacesetters in the Best Player of the Conference race.

GlobalPort’s Stanley Pringle is No. 1 in scoring as he exploded for 33 points in their losing season debut versus the NLEX Road Warriors (104-115). Next are SMB teammates Alex Cabagnot (averaging 25.5 points in their first two games) and Fajardo (24.5), then Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter (24.0) and Magnolia’s Paul Lee (23.0).

With 12 rebounds in his return to GlobalPort, Kelly Nabong is the surprised early leader in rebounding, followed by Fajardo (9.5), another Beerman Arwind Santos (9.0), Alaska Milk’s Calvin Abueva (9.0) and Meralco’s Jared Dillinger (9.0).

Kiefer Ravena, who could well be a sensational rookie, led NLEX to a 2-0 season start with victories over Kia and GlobalPort. The former Ateneo hotshots averaged 19.0 points and 8.5 assists in those games.

Only Meralco’s Baser Amer is ahead of Ravena in playmaking through the end of 2017.

Amer dished out a total of 21 assists in their first two games in the season. Ravena had 17 dole-outs while Chris Ross and Jayson Castro had 16 each.

Slaughter and Tenorio collected good numbers in their lone game thus far versus the Magnolia Hotshots.

Slaughter practically threw his weight around in collecting 24 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks and two assists while Tenorio frolicked with 15 markers, eight dish-offs, five steals and five rebounds as the Gin Kings clobbered the Hotshots, 89-78.

Barring an injury, Ginebra coach Tim Cone foresees a duel of titans between Slaughter and Fajardo.

“He was the league’s leading scorer and rebounder before he got injured (in the Philippine Cup last season). This is his conference. He’s the only answer to June Mar Fajardo,” said Cone of Slaughter.

And having the pair of Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar to throw at Fajardo, Cone expressed great optimism they have a legitimate chance at challenging the Beermen for the crown.

San Miguel claimed the 2017 Philippine Cup crown in beating Ginebra, 4-1, in the finale. The Kings, however, scored a payback in their conquest of the Beermen in the semifinals of the Governors Cup. And the Kings went on to nail the crown with a win over the Meralco Bolts in the titular series.

The initial showdown between the Beermen and the Kings this season is on Jan. 28 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

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