Beermen try to bounce back as they take on retooled Road Warriors

May 18, 2017

IT WAS when Gilas was already assured of a win against Malaysia in the SEABA tournament last Sunday that San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria approached June Mar Fajardo on the Nationals' bench and jokingly reminded his prized center of one thing.

"Ang sabi ko sa kanya, 'Hoy, may laro pa tayo ng Friday,'" related Austria. "Wala namang sinabi. Ngumiti lang."

Austria could not be faulted.

The Beermen take on a drastically re-tooled NLEX squad Friday with the former aiming to move closer to a PBA Commissioner's Cup quarterfinals berth at the Cuneta Astrodome.

At first glance, the game is a no-bearing one for the Road Warriors since they have already been taken out of the running for inclusion among the top eight teams advancing to the next round.

But the game could also be used by NLEX coach Yeng Guiao to see how the acquisition of JR Quinahan and Larry Fonacier would impact his team as it now moves forward without Sean Anthony, Bradwyn Guinto, Garvo Lanete, Glen Khobuntin and Eric Camson.

That is precisely why Austria wants Fajardo, whose commitment to Gilas for the SEABA tilt ends following the championship game against Indonesia Thursday, ready to suit up and see action.

"Nothing to lose ang NLEX kaya that makes them extra dangerous," noted Austria. "At the same time, hinahabol namin iyung quarterfinals (slot) kaya kailangan full strength kami para maiwasan ang disgrasya."

The three-peat Philippine Cup champion has already tasted defeat minus the reigning three-time MVP.

Without the 6-foot-10 behemoth, who is usually good for 14 points and 7.8 rebounds an outing, not to mention a huge inside presence, SMB dropped a 103-112 decision to TNT KaTropa last May 5.

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Charles Rhodes scored a PBA career-high 43 points, Chris Ross added 17 points and 10 assists and Marcio Lassiter also chipped in 17 markers, but Fajardo's absence clearly took its toll on the Beermen who fell behind early and got their late uprising quashed.

"Kaya nga kailangan namin talaga si June Mar dahil sa kanya nag-uumpisa plays namin and his defense is vital," said Austria.

"Besides, hindi naman siya masyadong babad sa Gilas dahil nabibigyan siya ng ample rest."