After the initial round robin phase six of the nine teams have advanced. Powerade, Meralco, and Air21 were unable to make the cut. Powerade showed a lot of improvement behind the strong play of Chris Porter and local star Gary David, but in the end B-Meg and Rain or Shine won the tie breakers based on the head-to-head matchups. Meralco had a tough conference as their gamble to switch imports after the fourth game from Champ Oguchi to Tim Pickett (Florida State, 2nd Round pick, and CBA veteran) backfired when Pickett went down with an injury in his third appearance. Air21’s conference was miserable as they went winless, going as far as shutting down Danny Seagle for the last couple of games. Do not worry though, Alpha Bangura still got his numbers!
#6 – Rain or Shine Elasto Painters (4-5): Arizona Reid has produced as expected, averaging over 26 points and 15 rebounds per contest. To me though, the key for Rain or Shine is going to be the play of Gabe Norwood. His shooting numbers are down this season. While the Painters have a solid cast of local players, they have no clear cut second option at this point, and I think Norwood is the best bet to step into that role. Case in point was last night’s game where Reid dropped a conference-best 41 points yet the Painters still could not pull out the victory, losing 99-98.
#5 – B-Meg Llamados (5-4): Myron Allen will step in as the third import player of this conference after Darnell Hinson’s sudden departure to deal with a custody battle in the US. I am not sold on Allen at this point. I have watched him the past two seasons in the CBA playing for Xinjiang and Shandong and have seen huge inconsistency in his game. He will score 25 one game and then disappear the next. For B-Meg he will need to drive aggressively and create shots for his teammates. If Allen starts to settle for the 3 his team is in real trouble as he is a very poor shooter. The key is Allen realizing that B-Meg does not need their import to score 30 a game, but instead be a “glue-guy” and help Yap, Simon, and Devance play to their potential.
#4 – Alaska Aces (5-4): I did not like the signing of Jason Forte at the beginning of the conference, and I am still no convinced he was the best player available for the job, but Alaska has played well above expectations this conference. Forte and Thoss on the interior and Tenorio and Baguio on the perimeter makes them one of the most balanced teams. I still do not trust Forte as a shot creator, so one of the local players will need to step up during clutch time.
#2 – Barnagay Ginebra Kings (5-3): Curtis Stinson’s PBA tenure was cut short by injury, but no loss for the Kings as they were able to pick up fellow D-Leaguer Donald Sloan to fill his spot. While Sloan is not the playmaker Stinson is, he is a more all-around scorer and a better shooter. Ginebra is stacked on the perimeter, but has no presence inside whatsoever. Sloan will have to keep rebounding at the level he has so far (8 a game) to help his team shore up the interior
#1 – Tropang Talk ‘N Texters (7-2): After 8 games with Maurice Baker and despite a 1st place standing TNT is going to the man they initially wanted for this conference: Scottie Reynolds. Reynolds will make this already explosive team even more so. In the last game of the round robin TNT dropped 140 points on Air21, and in the first game of the second phase they scored 103 on the tough defense of Alaska. TNT is the favorite, so everyone will be gunning for them, but their team is loaded enough to handle the challenge.
To show the quality of the imports this conference a quick tally regarding the pedigree of the import players is helpful. Of the 16 import players this conference 3 played in the NBA, 11 in the D-League, and the other two were D1 ballers. Not too many leagues can match those numbers in their import players.
If you have never watched a PBA game you are missing out on some real excitement. www.pba.ph has the full schedule and http://streampinoy.info/rpn-solar-pba-games-live-streaming.html has almost all of the games streaming.