You can feel the playoff fever already in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup although there are still five more playing dates left in the elimination round.
This is specially so for Rain or Shine, Magnolia, San Miguel and Phoenix – four teams badly needing victories to bolster their respective playoff bids in the mid-season conference.
The Elasto Painters play the embattled Hotshots in the first tussle at 4:30 p.m. while the Beermen clash with the Fuel Masters in the 7 p.m. main offering of a crucial double-header at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Except for San Miguel, the three other protagonists today are still within the ‘magic eight’, with the Hotshots occupying fifth place at 5-4 despite losing their last two assignments.
The Elasto Painters and the Fuel Masters are sharing the sixth and seventh places on identical 4-5 records, just half a game higher than Alaska which has remained in eighth spot despite losing its last four games.
The Beermen are currently out of that magic circle at 3-6. They could still salvage a best-of-3 stint but will have to sweep their last three games, including against Phoenix today, Rain or Shine on Saturday in Cagayan de Oro City and versus Meralco at the close of the elimination on July 17.
In a sharp contrast to their showing in the last Philippine Cup which they eventually won, the Beermen have been struggling near the bottom of the standings until the arrival of Chris McCullough, who had replaced Charles Rhodes.
A first-round draftee in the NBA, McCullough debuted with flourish as he cut loose with a barrage of three-pointers highlighting his remarkable 47-point performance that powered the Beermen to a 109-105 win over NLEX las Friday.
Needless to say, SMB’s locals have to complement their new import if they are to progress further, more so since they are up against a Phoenix team also needing to bounce back from a stinging 100-98 loss to Columbian Dyip last Saturday.
The Elasto Painters meanwhile are hoping to make a follow-up to their 86-84 win over the Aces to improve their standings and avoid falling into either seventh or eighth spots.
The Painters will parade new import Carl Montgomery as they set out in game versus the Hotshots who are out to rebound from back-to-back losses and clinch a win that will keep them in fifth place.
RoS brought in Montgomery to replace Denzel Bowles, who was ruled out for the rest of the conference after hurting his knee in a collision with Jeron Teng late in the second quarter of the RoS-Alaska game last Saturday.
“It would be hard to match what Denzel had provided us. But Montgomery will surely be a big help on the defensive end,” RoS coach Caloy Garcia said.
The 6-foot-8, 30-year old Montgomery joined the Elasto Painters in practice Monday according to Garcia. He is coming off fresh from a stint with the JD Unicorns in the Malaysian Pro League.
Montgomery played four seasons with the Chicago State in the US NCAA before taking his talent in Europe with stints in Latvia, Estonia and Belgium.