2018 PBA semifinals preview

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(CNN Philippines) — It's been a great conference so far in the Philippine Cup.

Every team has the capability to match-up and beat the other team on any given day (save for KIA - although they have improved and are heading towards the right direction with their new management and coach).

That's why the standings were so close and it was actually very tough to determine the playoff seedings or who would make the playoffs until the last few games of the elimination round.

That said, two teams really stood out this conference - the San Miguel Beermen and the Magnolia Hotshots, both of which finished first and second respectively and both making the semifinals.

The NLEX Road Warriors looked very impressive against the Alaska Aces, winning two closely contested games by making plays down the stretch. Ginebra got great performances from LA Tenorio, Scotty Thompson and Japeth Aguilar, in three consecutive wins against Rain Or Shine.

And that leaves us with four teams vying for the championship.

San Miguel vs. Ginebra


The key to beating San Miguel - the team that every team would have to go through to win the championship in the Philippine Cup which they've won for the last three years - is to find a way to stop the juggernaut that is four-time MVP June Mar Fajardo.

Unfortunately, the one guy in the league who may have a shot at doing that - Greg Slaughter - is still out with an injury, and it's still not certain if he will be able to recover in time for this great matchup.

But San Miguel is not only about June Mar Fajardo. Marcio Lassiter and Arwind Santos have been great this conference while Chris Ross has been doing Chris Ross things and Alex Cabagnot is healthy again.

READ: San Miguel eliminates TNT to book first semis ticket

Ginebra will need big performances from LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar (who at times looks great, and at times looks lost), Joe Devance, and Scotty Thompson.

Sol Mercado was someone who coach Tim Cone really praised as being instrumental to their success against Rain or Shine in the quarterfinals, and he will need to play that way too against his buddy Chris Ross.

This is a rematch of last year's Philippine Cup Finals where San Miguel won rather easily 4-1, except now, we have it a round sooner.

The thing is, last year, Ginebra did not have Slaughter, whom they will not have again. It's tough to play what ifs in basketball, because we will really never know - a healthy Slaughter may not be enough to unseat SMB.

But what we can expect are two teams giving it their all and battling it out tooth and nail. Plus, we will be treated to a great chess match between two great coaches - Leo Austria and Tim Cone.

READ: Barangay Ginebra downs Rain or Shine to book semis berth

Magnolia vs. NLEX


Magnolia came out flat against a desperate Globalport team in the quarterfinals, falling behind by as much as 20 early in the game.

Good thing that they woke up and started playing the defense that has been their calling card thus paving the win.

NLEX, on the other hand, is in the semifinals for the first time in its franchise history. They had to grind out two tough wins against a really good Alaska squad.

Magnolia is a team that has been playing together for some time now. They have a deep bench who can play 10 deep.

They have enough bigs and guards to rotate.

NLEX has been a very guard-oriented team - they've got guys like Ravena, Alas, Fonacier, Mallari all playing at a high level, a spark plug in Juami Tiongson and another vet in Cyrus Baguio.

Their one big guy who has been very consistent has been JR Quinahan.

Against Alaska in game 2 however, Michael Miranda emerged as a little bit of an unsung hero. They're going to need all their big men to step up against the bigs of Magnolia.

Magnolia's bigs are complete, they've got a stretch 4 in Aldrech Ramos, a guy like Ian Sangalang who runs the floor well and can post, someone like Rafi Reavis who will defend well and is a great role player, a guy like Kyle Pascual who does the dirty work and can shoot too, plus Marc Pingris - who is their heart and anchor.

READ: Magnolia overcomes 20-point deficit to end TNT's PH Cup campaign

The key strategy for Magnolia will be stopping the pick and roll game of NLEX. NLEX has added different twists to their pick and roll actions, and it's actually fun to watch them execute their offense.

Coach Yeng has always been very good at maximizing the strengths of his players. For NLEX, they're going to need a total team effort and contributions from everybody.

If it's only going to be Ravena, Alas, Quinahan or Fonacier chipping in, then it won't be enough to beat this Magnolia team which is just so solid on both ends of the floor.

My favorite part of this series is the fact that we get the chance to see a Paul Lee vs Kiefer Ravena showdown - both guys who have flourished under Coach Yeng.

Both guys who will always have the ball in their hands, who don't play much defense, and who have the green light to do whatever they want on offense.

This should be entertaining to say the least.

What is certain is that both sides of this series will be a fresh treat for basketball fans.

READ: NLEX reasserts mastery of Alaska to reach semis for first time