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By Jason Webb

While the wildcard games are still part of the elimination round, we will already consider it part of the playoffs because of the excitement it brings and the win-or-go-home philosophy. With that in mind, playoff basketball in the 2009 Motolite Fiesta Conference begins this Wednesday with some intriguing match-ups.

The upper bracket is composed of semifinalist San Miguel Beer, 1-game knockout protagonists Sta. Lucia and Coca-Cola while Burger King enjoys a twice to beat advantage over Alaska for the other quarterfinal slot. The bottom half has Barangay Ginebra with an outright semifinal seat, Talk ‘N Text and Purefoods in a one-game knockout for a quarterfinal seat and Rain or Shine having a twice-to-beat advantage over Barako Bull.
It’s quite evident how tough the bottom half of the draw is. A couple of early favorites are bundled together with the toughest game for a one-game knockout being the Talk ‘N Text-Purefoods matchup.

Having a twice-to-win disadvantage against their opponents, Wednesday participant Barako Bull and Alaska have the odds stacked against them to progress far in the playoffs.

BARAKO BULL versus RAIN OR SHINE Previous Meetings (RorS 103, BB 97), (RoS 91, BB 83)

Rain or Shine has had Barako Bull’s number all year, having not lost to them since the end of last year’s Fiesta, it seems Barako Bull is exactly the team they need to finally progress deep in the playoffs.

It has been Rain or Shine’s best season thus far but they have dropped the ball a number of times to make the season an even more memorable. In the last conference, they failed to post a single post-season win when they seemingly imploded by having their superstars suspended in their series against Sta. Lucia. In this conference, they lost to Coke in their final classification game for a chance to get a lock at the semifinals and then got destroyed by Ginebra when they got a second chance at the outright semis. The Elasto Painters are an exciting team but it’s evident that they are still in a maturation process and they are still learning how to win the big game. Luckily for them, they got two chances to do it and they’ll be facing a team that also lacks in experience.

Barako Bull is definitely no slouch and had a chance to win against good teams in their last three playdates. But close is the only thing they have been able to do lately. They have lost their last eight games and have not tasted victory in more than two months. Management has given their all by trying to bring an import that can carry and boost the locals but it still hasn’t been enough. For a shot at winning, it’s imperative Barako Bull to get at least two locals to play the game of their life. Not many would give Barako Bull a shot at winning this series and that’s exactly what they’ll have to use to be successful. They’ll have to realize that all the pressure is on their opponent and not on them.

Rain or Shine undoubtedly has the advantage but a huge upset in the first game for Barako Bull would swing the favorite role on their side by putting pressure on the young Rain or Shine squad.

BURGER KING versus ALASKA ACES Previous Meeting (BK 106, ALA 88)

A tough fall to mediocrity for a team that was in the Finals of the previous Philippine Cup and champion the last time the Fiesta Conference had a 6-6 limit for imports. Alaska just couldn’t recover from the slow 0-3 start in the conference and now has to play a solid Burger King squad that defeated by a whopping 18 points in their one and only meeting in the classification round.

With two teams having exactly opposite mantras on offense, this series will be decided by who controls tempo. Burger King, a team that loves to run and have players who’ve never seen a shot they didn’t like, will have fresh legs having last played May 17. Alaska, on the other hand, looked like a fatigued team against their last opponent and will be playing their fourth game in eight days. The Aces average the second fewest amount of field goal attempts a game and that means they slow it down, run their offense until you finally blink and very rarely takes early attempts unless it’s wrapped neatly like a present. The flip side of that is that there are instances when the team almost looks like they play without energy on the offensive end and guys like Miller and Tenorio become dogs with muzzles which can’t bite when they want to.

If Alaska can find the consistent energy that they’ve lacked all season, they might be able to pull off an upset. But it’s just hard to imagine how far they’ll go after this series since they’ve played in the last three gamedays and they’ll realistically only have one play date as their rest day until the day get eliminated.

Burger King is definitely smart money to go to, having been consistent all year. Even if they have a penchant to throw up bad shots, they shoot the ball extremely well from the field and they should have enough firepower to overcome Alaska’s slowdown game. Shawn Daniels will be a handful since Alaska only has Sonny Thoss to push him off the block. Alaska is a battler but I just can’t see the Whoppers shooting poorly in two consecutive games to hand the other quarterfinal seat to the Aces.
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