By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
THE Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) starts its Season 44 this weekend with the opening of the All-Filipino tournament Philippine Cup at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, on Sunday.
Setting action off is the clash of the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings against the TNT KaTropa set for 6:30 p.m.
Prior to it the Leo Awards for top individual performances in the previous season will be held as well as the official opening ceremonies for the brand-new season.
Barangay Ginebra enters the tournament hailed as one of the tournament favorites in an informal survey among league governors early this week on the strength of an intact lineup that had much success last season.
In the 2017-18 Philippine Cup, the Kings had it rough in the elimination round, barely notching a winning record at 6-5. It was enough, however, to land them at fourth spot, thanks to a higher quotient over two other teams with a similar record.
They would sweep the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in their best-of-three quarterfinals before bowing to eventual champions San Miguel Beermen in their best-of-seven semifinals, 4-1.
After that the Kings would go on and win the midseason Commissioner’s Cup and then topping the elimination round of the Governors’ Cup that led to a semifinal finish.
“It’s going to be a rush job for us because we thought we are going to play a little later in the conference. But we have picked things up in training and we will be ready,” said Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone in an interview with BusinessWorld in the PBA’s media day for the upcoming season yesterday.
“Good thing we are healthy. But we are expecting a tough fight from TNT,” he added.
TNT, meanwhile, looks to rebound after a very pedestrian season last year for its standards.
It wound up with 17-16 card in the three conferences, failing to go past the quarterfinals in the first two conferences and missing out on the playoffs altogether in the final conference in Season 43.
The KaTropa retooled heading into the about-to-start tournament, bringing over serviceable auxiliaries who could complement their core of players for a more “balanced” attack.
“We’re still in the process of working on our game but we will be ready come opening day against Ginebra,” said TNT coach Bong Ravena in a separate interview.
“We’re a rebuilding team and we’ll just take it one game at a time,” he added.
In the Philippine Cup, tournament format calls for the 12 teams figuring in a single-round-robin elimination with the top eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals and the bottom four outright eliminated.
The top seed and no. 2 will enjoy a twice-to-beat advantage against no. 8 and no. 7, respectively, while no. 3 clashes with no. 6 and no. 4 slugs it out with no. 5 in a pair of best-of-three quarterfinals.
The semifinals will be a pair of best-of-seven series with the finals a best-of-seven affair as well.
Meanwhile, as the new PBA season unfolds, some rule changes are to be implemented to further enhance how the games are played.
Presented at the media day with league governors early this week, the key rule changes are goal-tend review for the duration of the match, adopting of the FIBA rule on traveling violation, and allowing verbal calls of the coaches on player timeouts.
League officials said the rule changes are geared towards improving the league and making the games enjoyable to watch for fans.
“We’re looking forward to an exciting PBA Season 44 with all the changes and improvement in team lineups, and the changes and improvement in our rules to make the game more exciting,” said PBA chairman Ricky Vargas during the media day.
He was seconded by league commissioner Willie Marcial, saying, “We took into consideration many things in coming up with this (rule changes), foremost is to make the game better for the better appreciation of our fans.”