(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
5 p.m. – Opening Ceremonies
6:30 p.m. – San Miguel vs Phoenix
San Miguel hopes to start its quest for a historic fourth straight Philippine Cup title on a high note against Phoenix tonight as the focus returns on the hardcourt following a tumultuous boardroom battle in the offseason in the opener of the PBA’s 43rd season at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen, who remain a talent-laden bunch despite falling short on last season’s Grand Slam dream, hope to launch their title-bid into high gear and spoil the debut of new Fuel Masters coach Louie Alas in the lone game set at 6:30 p.m.
But before San Miguel and Phoenix take centerstage, the league will hold simple opening rites at 5 p.m., veering away from the usual extravagant program after friction by members of the Board of Governors over the tenure of PBA Commissioner Chito Narvasa nearly put the season on hold.
Christian Standhardinger, the main character in the drama of the two warring groups after Narvasa approved the trade that sent Kia’s No. 1 pick to San Miguel, won’t be around because of his commitment to finish his stint with Hong Kong Eastern in the ASEAN Basketball League.
While it waits for Standhardinger to finish his obligations overseas, San Miguel is still confident of its chances to become the first team in PBA history to win four successive championships in an all-Filipino tournament.
June Mar Fajardo also enters the season with a chance at making history as the first five-time winner of the league’s Most Valuable Player award, breaking the tie with Alvin Patrimonio and Ramon Fernandez.
Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos and Marcio Lassiter are also expected to continue their vital roles from last season when the Beermen claimed the first two conferences only to be denied of a triple crown by eventual champion Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the Governors’ Cup.
But coach Leo Austria sees the new season as the biggest challenge of their current run of form, with Ginebra being groomed as the biggest threat in its Philippine Cup title search.
Phoenix looks to score an upset win and hand Alas a positive start to his first PBA coaching stint since handling the Mobiline/Talk ‘N Text franchise from 2000 to 2001.
Alas, the former Letran coach who spent the past five season as Alex Compton’s chief lieutenant, faces a big task in giving Phoenix its first semifinal appearance since entering the league in the 2015-16 season.
He will implement his trademark pressure defense while capitalizing on a variety of offensive weapons in Matthew Wright, Jeff Chan, rookie Jason Perkins and playmaker LA Revilla, who hopes to finally play for a contender after spending three seasons as a big fish in a small pond at Kia.