by Jonas Terrado
The euphoria is over for San Miguel Beer although the hangover from winning the PBA Philippine Cup apparently continues to linger.
The Beermen had to endure the difficult task of returning to action three weeks after beating the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok in a thrilling seven-game finals and begin their stint in the midseason tourney – the Commissioner’s Cup, second jewel of the Grand Slam.
Bliss quickly turned into nightmare.
SMB was left groping for form after being crushed by NorthPort, 121-88, and TNT KaTropa, 110-97, in a pair of shocking defeats for a team that rarely loses by such margins.
“I think it’s very obvious that we’re not in top form against teams that have played in their fifth game of the conference,” San Miguel coach Leo Austria said after Saturday’s defeat to TNT at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
TNT import Terrence Jones kept his explosive showing by dropping 30 points even as he displayed his defensive prowess with five blocks to frustrate SMB frontliners June Mar Fajardo and import Charles Rhodes.
“Kailangan makabalik kami sa winning track (We have to go back on winning track),” lamented Fajardo, who weeks prior was savoring the championship feeling and the accolade befitting a Finals Most Valuable Player.
Injuries are also hampering SMB’s play.
Chris Ross was sorely missed against NorthPort due to a torn meniscus and a shoulder tear during SMB’s playoff run.
Ross returned in Saturday’s meeting opposite TNT but SMB once again missed Terrence Romeo from an Achilles problem that may take at least two weeks to heal.
Having to snap out of a 0-2 slump instead of leading the field seems to be wrong timing for San Miguel as it enters a crucial two-game stretch against Blackwater and defending champion Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.
The Beermen face the Elite on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena before colliding with the Kings in a rematch of last year’s Commissioner’s Cup Finals on June 16 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“As coach said, we still have a lot of games to be played and it’s still early in the conference,” said Fajardo.
SMB fans will be relieved to know their team’s confidence level remains high. How long it will stay there will depend largely on the outcome of their next two games though.