Will Phoenix, Magnolia do or die?

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

It’s survive or pack up for Phoenix and Magnolia as they battle to live for another game in the PBA Governors’ Cup quarterfinals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum today. Meralco has a twice-to-beat advantage over Magnolia while TNT enjoys the same edge over Phoenix. In the previous conference, Meralco finished 10th and didn’t make it to the playoffs but the Bolts are now a win away from barging into the semis. Magnolia has gone to the semis in the last four conferences and is in danger of ending the streak.

Meralco and Magnolia wound up the elims with identical 7-4 records but the Bolts took the fourth slot by virtue of a +18 differential compared to the Hotshots’ +14. NLEX was the third team with the same record and dropped to No. 6 on a -32 differential. In the elims, Meralco nipped Magnolia, 86-84 so the margin was hardly decisive. Both squads are defense-oriented so expect a low-scoring contest in today’s clash. Magnolia is No. 1 in points allowed, giving up 99.3 a game while Meralco is No. 2 with 99.8. The standings are reversed in field goal percentage allowed with Meralco No. 1 at 41.8 percent and Magnolia, No. 2 at 42. They’re also neck-to-neck in the rebounding ladder as Magnolia is No. 1 with 53 boards an outing and Meralco No. 2 at 52.

Even without Ian Sangalang in harness, Magnolia has more depth than Meralco as five Hotshots are averaging in double figure points compared to the Bolts’ four. Magnolia’s leading scorers are Antonio Hester (27.9), Paul Lee (17.5), Calvin Abueva (14.2), Mark Barroca (13.3) and Jio Jalalon (10.4). The Bolts’ twin digit scorers are KJ McDaniels (26), Allein Maliksi (15.9), Aaron Black (14.8) and Chris Newsome (14.3). McDaniels’ versatility in playing multiple positions gives him a distinct advantage over Hester who’s basically an inside operator. How Meralco coach Norman Black will exploit that edge is a tactical matchup challenge for Magnolia coach Chito Victolero. Black, Newsome and Chris Banchero are hitting at least 40 percent from beyond the arc plus Maliksi is shooting 38.1 percent so that three-point weapon will be key in spreading the floor against the Hotshots whose interior defense is anchored on Hester.

TNT is No. 1 in offense, scoring 117.3 points a game and hasn’t lost since dropping a 110-108 decision to NLEX last Feb. 1. The Tropa has won eight in a row and is unbeaten for over a month. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a perfect fit for coach Jojo Lastimosa’s system and enjoying his role as a go-to guy. He’s 0-of-7 from three-point distance but that’s not an issue. Phoenix’ Du’Vaughn Maxwell is also 0-of-7 from beyond the arc. Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 31 points, 12 rebounds and 5.8 assists so Lastimosa can’t complain. Besides, RR Pogoy is hitting 54.2 percent from three, Kelly Williams 50 and Calvin Oftana 44.2. Maxwell is a master shot blocker and he’s the reason why Phoenix is No. 1 in swats. Phoenix coach Jamike Jarin has a lot of cards under his sleeve and his array of unpredictable tactics can cause headaches for TNT which beat the Fuel Masters only by four in the elims. If Javee Mocon returns to his old deadly form and Jason Perkins, Encho Serrano and Tyler Tio wax hot, Phoenix could be a problem for the Tropa. But for Phoenix to survive, it won’t be because of offense. Phoenix has no chance trading baskets with TNT and the only way it can win is if the Fuel Masters play unforgiving defense.


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