By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

THE Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) “bubble” tournament in Pampanga hits the playoff phase with the start of the quarterfinals on Friday.

Following a month of competitive and packed elimination games, the field for the coronavirus pandemic-hit Philippine Cup has been reduced to eight teams which will go into battle at the Angeles University Foundation Arena.

Kicking off the quarterfinal proceedings are the clash between top seeds Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings and the eighth-seeded Rain or Shine Elasto Painters and that of fourth seeds and defending champions San Miguel Beermen and number 5 team Meralco Bolts.

The Kings take on the Elasto Painters in the 6:45 p.m. main game while the Beermen collide with the Bolts in the curtain-raiser at 4 p.m.

Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel carry twice-to-beat advantages in the pairings after landing in the top four at the end of the eliminations.

The Kings (8-3) have been steady throughout the preliminary round, banking on the depth of their roster led by explosive guard Stanley Pringle (18.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 3.2 apg).

They hit a rough patch midway into the eliminations, but have recovered since and set to make a dash to a first All-Filipino title since the 2006-07 season.

Waiting for the Kings are the Elasto Painters (6-4), the last team to book a spot in the quarterfinals.

They had a chance to go even higher in the seeding but their loss to the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters on the final play date of the eliminations on Wednesday where they got the rug pulled from under them, 90-88, derailed their bid.

Rain or Shine, however, has the number of Barangay Ginebra so far in the Philippine Cup, winning their lone match, 85-82, on Oct. 27.

In said game, four Elasto Painters scored in double digits, led by the 20 of Beau Belga.

In the other pairing, San Miguel (7-4) moves to inch closer to another finals appearance and defend the title it has won in the last five years.

Sans key cogs June Mar Fajardo and Terrence Romeo because of injury, the Beermen are digging deep in the tournament, towed by what is left of their championship core — Arwind Santos (13 ppg and 9.9 rpg), Alex Cabagnot (13.2 ppg), Chris Ross (7.2 ppg and 5 rpg) and Marcio Lassiter (15.9 ppg) — and big man Mo Tautuaa (18.9 ppg and 7.6 rpg).

Looking to dethrone the Beermen at the onset of the playoffs is Meralco (7-4), winner of four of five matches, including its last two.

Had their problems in the All-Filipino tournament in the past, the Bolts this time around are competing on firmer footing with their mix of young and veteran crew meshing up well.

Chris Newsome (14.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 4.4 apg) is leading the balanced attack of Meralco.

In the teams’ first encounter on Oct. 28, San Miguel prevailed, 89-82, with Messrs. Tautuaa and Santos leading the charge.

The rest of the quarterfinal cast play on Saturday, with second-seed Phoenix (8-3) taking on seventh-seeded Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok (7-4) while third seeds TNT Tropang Giga (7-4) battling the sixth seeds Alaska Aces (7-4).

Phoenix and TNT have the twice-to-beat incentive in the pairing.

Meanwhile, the PBA reported that all delegates in the PBA bubble in Clark City tested negative in their fourth cycle of coronavirus testing this week, which was administered by the Philippine Red Cross.