For SMB coach Leo Austria, next two games crucial for team’s run for top two finish
4:30 p.m. – San Miguel Beer vs Blackwater
7 p.m. – NLEX vs Meralco
Leo Austria was on his way to oversee San Miguel Beer’s practice on Thursday morning and practically told the Inquirer what he will tell his Beermen on the eve of a crucial PBA Philippine Cup clash with back-to-the-wall Blackwater.
“This game is very important. Actually, our next two games will be very important,” Austria said over the phone, referring to their 4:30 p.m. clash with the Elite at Cuneta Astrodome on Friday and their tussle with red-hot Alaska on the road in eight days.
“These games will practically decide whether we get it (a top two finish) and I will tell my players that we need to go all out (in these),” he said as the Beermen try to keep a solid grip of the top spot with a win over Blackwater and make the Alaska game a virtual clash for one of two twice-to-beat privileges.
San Miguel has four games left, with KIA Picanto coming after Alaska and then the one against Rain or Shine ending its elimination round schedule.
Austria has put a premium on a win-once bonus on his boys as they gun for an unprecedented fourth straight championship here.
“If you have that advantage, you’re virtually assured of making the last four,” he said.
The Beermen are in for a rough ride against Blackwater, for not only are the Elite going to fight for dear life, they also have the tools to play big and fast, just like what the Beermen have used to establish a dynasty in this conference.
And San Miguel will go into its last four games still without high-scoring point guard Alex Cabagnot and back-up power forward Gabby Espinas.
There’s still no timeline on Cabagnot’s return, with his injury still “to be evaluated in the next two weeks.”
San Miguel is leading the pack with a 6-1 (win-loss) card, with Alaska and Magnolia tied for second at 6-2. The Elasto Painters are the only other team with an outside chance of a twice-to-beat bonus with a 4-3 record.
Austria believes that eight wins would mean “an 85% chance” of nailing a quarterfinal bonus, but he said that they must get to eight wins or more counting the Aces as victims to avoid complications in the tiebreak, if ever.
“It would be frustrating to fall into ties and losing there,” he said.
While the Beermen are trying to salvage a top two spot, NLEX and Meralco clash in the second game at 7 p.m. looking for wins to be able to stay in the running for playoff berths.
With a 3-4 record, the Road Warriors still have a chance to salvage a place in the middle of the pack and get a fair chance in the quarterfinals by falling into a best-of-three series.
Meralco, on the other hand, are at 2-5 and would need nothing less than a sweep of its last four games just to entertain thoughts of making it past this round for the first time under multi-titled Norman Black. /