KaTropa go for top spot; Bolts fight for survival
Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - July 17, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Struggling Meralco fights to stay alive while San Miguel Beer, TNT and Magnolia vie for good positioning in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup quarterfinals today as they wrap up their respective eliminations slates at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Bolts (3-7) go for broke against the streaking Beermen (5-5) in the 4:30 p.m. curtain-raiser, seeking to make the most of their chance to claim the right to challenge eighth-running Alaska (4-7) for the remaining ticket to the next round.

The Beermen, unbeaten in their last three assignments, need a W as well to secure their seeding as either No. 5 or 6 in a best-of-three outing in the Last-8 and avoid the possibility of falling into Seed 7, which carries a twice-to-win disadvantage against the second ranked.

Carrying a similar objective as SMB are the Hotshots (5-5), who according to coach Chito Victolero, have tapped former Syracuse U and Indiana Pacers player Rakeem Christmas in place of James Farr. 

The Hotshots clash with the red-hot KaTropa (9-1) at 7 p.m. with a win guaranteeing fifth seed and a loss leading to No. 7 if SMB dispatches Meralco. For TNT, getting its eighth consecutive triumph will guarantee top seeding in the next phase.

On a five-game skid, the Bolts try to salvage the situation and forge a three-way tie with idle Alaska and Phoenix at No. 8, eventually advancing to the rubbermatch for No. 8 due to superior quotient versus the Fuel Masters. A setback ends it all up for coach Norman Black’s charges.

“We need to take advantage of the opportunity to force a playoff with Alaska to make it to the quarterfinals. It will be tough against SMB but we will focus all our energies on getting a win,” said Black.

“It’s a must-win for us. It’s been that way for the last three games. We’re treating each game as a do-or-die and it’s working,” said SMB coach Leo Austria, whose team will settle for seventh if it yields to the Bolts and the Texters win over the Hotshots. “We want to avoid No. 7 so we have to beat Meralco and get into a best-of-three.”

Meanwhile, TNT guns for its 10th win and first top finish in the elims since the 2016 Governors’ Cup. If they lose, the KaTropa will be relegated to No. 2 at 9-2 behind NorthPort (9-2), which will take No. 1 on winner-over-the-other tiebreak.

“Our goal is to win each game,” said TNT’s Bong Ravena. “We are just going to play our game, which is to lock in on defense and keep attacking on offense.”

Notes: Blackwater is briging back former import Greg Smith to replace the injured Staphon Blair in time for its Last -8 campaign. Smith, a former Houston Rockets player, previously played with the Elite in 2016 and is expected to give them a boost experience-wise and skills-wise as the the No. 3 seed looks to continue their franchise-best showing in the import-flavored conference.

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