There’s a different feel to this version of the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters.
The Fuel Masters’ 7-1 win-loss record in the 2023-2024 PBA Commissioner’s Cup has them on pace for their best record since the 2020 PBA Honda Philippine Cup, where they finished 8-3 and exited in the Philippine Cup semifinals after losing to the TNT Tropang Giga in five games.
Phoenix was not so much a bottom-dweller like the Terrfirma Dyip and the Blackwater Bossing, but apart from two Philippine Cup semifinal appearances in 2019 and 2020, the Fuel Masters have never gotten past the quarterfinals. At times, it seemed like Phoenix ran out of steam in the latter stages of the postseason; other times it was the wrong matchup at the wrong time.
This conference, though, offers some promise.
Currently, the Fuel Masters have won six straight games, with their most recent victory coming against the NorthPort Batang Pier. Neither team could get separation even as the Batang Pier built an eight-point lead in the first half However, Phoenix’s team effort on different facets of the game allowed them to pull away in the fourth quarter.
Import Johnathan Williams, Keneth Tuffin, and Tyler Tio made huge contributions on offense, while Williams, Larry Muyang, and Ricci Rivero made their mark on the defensive end. That the Fuel Masters were able to dominate the boards (55-47) against NorthPort’s frontcourt without Jason Perkins only emphasizes the narrative of a collective effort.
At 28, Williams is the third-youngest import after the Magnolia Hotshots’ Tyler Bey (25) and Bennie Boatwright (27), who as of this writing has yet to debut for the San Miguel Beermen. His youth has been an asset both in terms of the counting stats and the intangibles. Most of the players on Phoenix’s roster were also born in the 90s so this young group can easily get along with the former Los Angeles Laker and Washington Wizard.
Fuel Masters head coach Jamike Jarin’s greater influence since assuming the role prior to this season has also been a positive development. Jarin has been a head coach in both high school and college and thus understands what it takes to get the most out of his younger players.
Jarin’s guidance and the best Williams can give will be very much needed as Phoenix will face the Beermen, Meralco Bolts, and the Tropang Giga to wrap up their preliminary round schedule. San Miguel may not be in prime form and are missing June Mar Fajardo, but you never know who could show up. Meanwhile the Bolts and TNT are coming off confidence-building wins in the East Asia Super League so the Fuel Masters should expect stiff challenges from both squads.
The Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters are having a dream start to their PBA Season 48 as they have thus far won seven of their first eight games in the 2023-2024 PBA Commissioner’s Cup. While uncommon, a strong start is something they’ve done before but the only thing that will matter when all is said and done is whether or not the Fuel Masters will even get a foot into the championship round.