NorthPort Takes On Favored San Miguel

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FOUR teams begin their best-of-three quarterfinal series today, September 26, as NorthPort returns to the playoffs after getting eliminated early in last year's bubble tournament.

The Batang Pier ended up fifth in the elimination round in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup, tied with Rain or Shine with the same 6-5 win-loss record. The Batang Pier, however, earned the higher seeding by virtue of the win-over-the-other rule against the Elasto Painters.

In the opening round of the playoffs, NorthPort faces a San Miguel Beermen team eager to return to glory.

Prior to last year's triumph of Barangay Ginebra in the Philippine Cup, San Miguel Beer had claimed the All-Filipino championship for five consecutive seasons.

But the Beermen will have their hands full against an up-and-coming Batang Pier in Sunday's game, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Don Honorio Ventura State University gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.

NorthPort has been one of the busiest teams in the off season, and one of its biggest acquisitions was seven-foot center Greg Slaughter.

Slaughter was sent to NorthPort from Barangay Ginebra in a trade with Christian Standhardinger and so far, the veteran slotman has emerged as the tournament's top rebounder and shot blocker with averages of 10.67 rebounds and 2.33 blocks per game.

With Slaughter in tow, the Batang Pier instantly became a title contender, and now that NorthPort is in the playoffs, he will have the chance to rekindle his rivalry with long-time nemesis June Mar Fajardo.

The rivalry between the two giants began during their college days in Cebu. Fajardo, however, dominated their matchup in the PBA as he collected six straight MVP crowns and led the Beermen to seven championships over the last six seasons.

Slaughter had his share of success with his former team Ginebra, but he was not considered at par with Fajardo. This time, the former Ateneo standout will have a chance to impose his will against Fajardo, who has not yet returned to his old form following a recuperation from injury.

“Now, we have somebody who can match up with June Mar. Before, we were really having a difficult time containing him. It's going to be a good matchup between Greg and June Mar. I know Greg also has something to prove,” said NorthPort coach Pido Jarencio.

The battle up front is just one of the few other interesting rivalries, but as a team, NorthPort also wants to prove its potential of becoming an elite team.

And with key additions like rookies Jamie Malonzo and Troy Rike, forward Sidney Onwubere, and returning ace guard Robert Bolick, who has emerged as the team's top playmaker and scorer, the Batang Pier are ready to roll the dice and take their chances against the favored, more seasoned Beermen.

In Sunday's other game, the Magnolia Hotshots and the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters collide at 3 p.m.

Last year, both teams were knocked out of the race in the quarterfinal round.

Magnolia finished third in the elimination round with an 8-3 win-loss record and the team is determined to push its luck further anchored on cerebral guard Paul Lee and hardworking forward Calvin Abueva, the team's prized acquisition in the off season.

Lee had taken over not just in facilitating the offense but also in scoring. He averaged 17 points per game, including a steady 90-percent shooting average from the free throw line, one of the most accurate shooters in the tournament.

Abueva, on the other hand, proved to be a vital cog for the Hotshots' campaign this year. He is averaging close to a double-double with 16.09 points and 9.73 rebounds per game as a starting power forward.