Bataan, Manila collide; San Juan takes on QC as MPBL Final Four begins

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Games Today (Bataan People’s Center)
7 p.m. — San Juan vs Quezon City
9 p.m. — Bataan vs Manila

EXPECT a slam bang encounter as powerhouse teams Bataan Riers and Manila Stars begin their semifinal round even as San Juan Knights battles a Quezon City Capitals that is making a Cinderella run in the northern division of the MPBL Datu Cup Tuesday night at the People’s Center in Balanga, Bataan.

It took nearly a year before these two teams waited for their next encounter, but a lot of things have changed since the Stars of Manila gave the Risers of Bataan a heartbreaking loss right at the San Andres Gym.

The two teams square off at 9 p.m. right after the beginning of the best-of-three semifinals series between the Knights and the Capitals at 7 p.m.

“It’s a different Bataan team, no doubt. But they also have a different Manila team now because of personnel movements,” said Bataan coach Jojo Lastimosa, who after losing to Manila went on to pick up a string of victories that stretched to a 14-game run.

The Zetapro-backed Risers are hoping to get the upper hand with a win in front of their home town crowd, but beating the Robust Energy-supported Stars would mean extra effort not just from their old reliables but also need contributions from their reserves.

Bataan has point guard Pamboy Raymundo, Gary David, Gab Dagangon, Alfred Batino and Vince Tolentino as the usual starters the past few games, but the Risers have also stacked their bench with dependable reserves like Byron Villarias, prized acquisition Yvan Ludovice, Richard Escoto, Bernie Bregondo, Rob Celiz, Achie Iñigo and even homegrown Gio Espuelas.

The Stars are as equally formidable with young cagers Chris Bitoon, Aris Dionisio, ex-pros Roger Yap, Riel Cervantes, Marvin Hayes, and Marcy Arellano, frontliners Mark Cruz and McLean Sabellina, Mac Montilla and Drian Celada ready to provide firepower.

The superior line up of both squads is just one of the interesting highlights in the match up. Serving as a fitting background to the duel is the coaching battle between two of the greatest players ever to play in Philippine basketball — Philip Cezar of Manila and Jojo Lastimosa of Bataan.

Cezar, a 15-time PBA champion and member of two grand slam teams with Crispa, is looking to revive his winning touch as coach, this time with his current MPBL team. He gave San Juan a championship in Year 2000 in the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association, the precursor of the MPBL

Lastimosa is looking to make a good impression as a first time coach in big-time basketball circuit. He has served as an assistant coach to Nash Racela at FEU and also to Yeng Guiao of the NLEX Road Warriors.

The game between San Juan and Quezon City will be as equally exciting. — Rey Joble