JUNE Mar Fajardo (second from left) and Chris Newsome (third from left) lead their respected team. — PBA MEDIA

A CHAMPION out to extend its reign. A bridesmaid raring to go all the way. An old ruler intent on regaining lost glory. A contender bent on scoring a breakthrough.

All hungry and determined, holder TnT, last season’s runner-up Magnolia, former five-peat king San Miguel Beer (SMB) and titlist-wannabe Meralco crank up their bids as the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) blasts off its Philippine Cup semifinals on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Tropang Giga and the Hotshots fire the opening salvo at 3 p.m. in a livewire best-of-seven series pitting the victors of the All-Filipino finale in Bacolor, Pampanga against their vanquished opponent.

The Beermen and the Bolts battle for a 1-0 head start in their own race-to-four affair at 6 p.m.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero.

Though the Tropang Giga dominated their last title confrontation, 4-1, and prevailed in their lone encounter in the tournament, 78-72, coach Chot Reyes reiterated this Final Four is a whole different ball game.

“They’re the hottest team right now; they’ve won nine of their last 10 games. It will take our best to be competitive against them,” said Mr. Reyes.

TnT vanguards Mikey Williams, Jayson Castro, RR Pogoy, Troy Rosario and Kelly Williams are up against Magnolia counterparts Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Ian Sangalang, Calvin Abueva and Jio Jalalon in this marquee matchup.

Meanwhile, SMB, with its high-powered roster, takes the next step in its journey to reclaim the jewel it last held in 2019.

On the other side are the charging Bolts, who are gunning for SMB’s scalp after giving old tormentor Barangay Ginebra the boot in the quarterfinals in their continuing quest for a historic PBA crown.

“San Miguel’s the No. 1 (seeded) team. They’re a different animal altogether with June Mar Fajardo, Mo Tautuaa, Vic Manuel, CJ Perez, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross; they’re going to be a handful,” said Luigi Trillo, who is pinch-hitting for on-leave coach Norman Black.

“But I’m confident our guys can put up a good fight. We have guys all around who can chip in,” he added, referring to the likes of Chris Newsome, Aaron Black, Cliff Hodge, Allein Maliksi and Raymond Almazan. — Olmin Leyba