AFTER a 10-day break from live action, the defending PBA Philippine Cup champions San Miguel Beermen return, battling the Meralco Bolts in the main game of the final playdate in 2016 of the league today at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.
Set for 7 p.m., the Beermen (4-1), who was last seen in action in an out-of-town game against the NLEX Road Warriors in Cagayan de Oro on Dec. 17, will try to maintain their winning ways and keep hold of the top spot in the standings while adding to the struggles of the Bolts (2-3), losers of their last two assignments.
In its 106-80 win over NLEX last time around, San Miguel was hardly challenged, leading from start to finish en route to its third straight win in the season-opening Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) tournament.
Alex Cabagnot showed the way for the Beermen, scoring 18 points with four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
League most valuable players June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos combined for 30 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks while RR Garcia and Marcio Lassiter had 12 and 11 points, respectively for San Miguel, who held NLEX to just 34% shooting.
“I want to get contributions from all directions. We want that kind of luxury in games and I think we were able to have that tonight,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria after their NLEX win.
He went on to say that it was very important for them to start games strong so as not to make it tougher for them in the tournament where parity has improved significantly.
Against Meralco, Mr. Austria said it is a “must-win” for them.
“Our game against Meralco is a must-win for us because we want to finish the year at the top of the standings and build on it as 2017 starts,” the coach said.
On the part of Meralco, the game today is also important as it attempts to arrest a two-game slide that has stymied its tournament push.
Going 2-1 in their first three games, the Bolts fell in their last two matches by an average deficit of three points, which has left them ruing.
Nonetheless, Meralco remains positive of its chances and determined to make up for lost ground in their remaining games.
Chris Newsome leads the team with 15 points per game to go along with 8.4 rebounds while rookie Ed Daquioag has been good for 13 points and Cliff Hodge 12.6 points, eight rebounds and 4.2 assists.
Serving as appetizer for the main game is the match between GlobalPort Batang Pier (3-2) and Phoenix Petroleum Fuel Masters (3-3) at 4:15 p.m.
The Batang Pier are coming off a loss in their last game while the Fuel Masters won previously.
Meanwhile, Mahindra Floodbuster’s Alex Mallari was named player of the week after leading his team to its first-ever win in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup on Christmas Day.
The left-handed guard tallied 23 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals to help his team come from behind and beat the Blackwater Elite, 97-93, in overtime in a game held at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
In winning the award, Mr. Mallari, who was acquired from the Star Hotshots in the offseason, beat Matthew Wright of Phoenix Petroleum, Japeth Aguilar of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings, Jewel Ponferrada of the Rain or Shine Elastopainters and Mac Belo of the Blackwater Elite.