MANILA, January 29, 2004  (STAR) By Joey Villar - Welcoat Paints and Fash Liquid Laundry Detergent clash in the opener of their best-of-five duel for the PBL Platinum Cup championship today, both determined to get the decisive head start in the series that has the trimmings of a classic war.

Game One is set at 4 p.m. at the Makati Coliseum with league officials raising funds for kids who are under the care of Bantay Bata Foundation.

Though it has been a practice of the league to open the games to the public, the PBL has decided to ask PBL fans to give a token contribution to the Bantay Bata Foundation. They can give their share at the gates of every venue of the title series.

Blustar and Sunkist-UST clash in a one-game playoff for third place at 4 p.m.

The Paintmasters are gunning for a sixth title while the Liquid Power a third crown in their title showdown. Incidentally, the defunct Asia Brewery Inc. franchise holds the record of the most number of championships won with seven.

Coaches Leo Austria of Welcoat and Junel Baculi of Fash rule out the possibility of a sweep as they predict the series to go the distance.

"It’s going to be an exciting series. I expect it to go five games," said Baculi, who is seeking a personal feat of matching former Tanduay-Stag coach Alfrancis Chua’s record seven championships. Baculi has won four titles for Welcoat and two for the Lamoiyan ballclub.

"This is going to be a tough series considering that both of the teams have a lot of things to prove. Kaya walang kukurap," said Austria, who, for his part, is gunning for a fourth title.

But PBL watchers give the Paintmasters the slight edge over the Liquid Power.

For one, the Paint Masters dominated the eliminations and the semifinals with a 14-4 win-loss slate including an emphatic 86-67 smashing of the Liquid Power only last Saturday.

Stats-wise, the Paintmasters are better, being the league’s top offensive and defensive team. Welcoat averages 77.6 points-for and 67.6 points-against versus Fash’s 69.9 and 68.3, respectively.

Welcoat also has a lot of go-to-guys in Jercules Tangkay, James Yap, Ervin Sotto, Paul Artadi and Marc Pingris. Fash, on the other hand, has hurting players in June Peter Simon and Eugene Tan.

Simon, picked by Purefoods in the free agent market, is nursing a thigh injury while Tan a sore right wrist.

With Simon and Tan unhealthy, PBA top draftee Rich Alvarez, Allan Salangsang and a group of untested collegiate players may have to step up their games to keep in step with the Paintmasters.

"We have several players who are injured and playing hurt so it’s really going to be important for my other players to step up," Baculi said.

The Welcoat-Fash showdown also serves as a venue for Most Valuable Player candidates from both teams to make a last ditch effort to show their true worth.

Welcoat’s Tangkay, Yap, Sotto, Willie Wilson, Artadi and Pingris and Fash’s Alvarez, Salangsang and Simon are the contenders for the MVP plum.

Austria expects his players figuring in the MVP race to play their hearts out.

"Sana mag-kagulo yung mga players nila na nag-aambisyong maging MVP," Baculi said in jest.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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