MANILA, January 3, 2005 
(STAR) For most of the country’s labor force, today is the first working day of the year.

But for the 10 ballclubs in the Philippine Basketball Association, it’s just another work day or continuation of spartan training that covered even the long holidays as they still have some unfinished business in the Gran Matador PBA Philippine Cup.

Fact is the crucial stretch of the tourney lies ahead. Playoff time is just around the corner, and this kept the PBA teams in their war rooms during the Yuletide season.

The teams which manage the best to stay in shape after the league’s 12-day break should have the edge as the Philippine Cup resumes with a double-header at the Philsports Arena on Wednesday.

The final playdate in the double-round classifications, pitting Coca-Cola versus FedEx and Alaska Milk against Sta. Lucia Realty, could well provide a brighter picture in the order of finish by the 10 ballclubs.

So far, only the first and last spots have been occupied with Barangay Ginebra emerging the best team with a 13-5 win-loss card and Red Bull Barako the worst with a 6-12 slate. The Kings have gained outright entry into the semis for topping the classifications.

The battles for the other slots remain wild and wooly.

Talk n Text (12-6) and Shell (12-6) will dispute the other outright berth in the semifinals in a playoff on Friday.

San Miguel Beer (9-9), Purefoods (9-9) and Alaska (8-9) are still contending for the No. 4 slot and the twice-to-beat incentive in the wildcard playoffs.

And Coca-Cola (7-10), FedEx (6-11) and Sta. Lucia Realty (6-11) are going all out to stay clear of the No. 9 spot to avoid a twice-to-win task in the wildcard battles.

The picture in these muddled battles only becomes clearer as the Tigers clash with the Express at 4:30 p.m. then the Aces collide with the Realtors at 7:20 p.m. on Wednesday.

If Alaska beats Sta. Lucia, the Aces arrange a playoff with the Beermen for the No. 4 spot. It would be a San Miguel-Purefoods playoff should Alaska lose to Sta. Lucia.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola automatically clinches seventh spot if it beats FedEx.

However, there’s a possibility that Coca-Cola, FedEx and Sta. Lucia finish tied from seventh to ninth if the Express beat the Tigers and the Realtors win over the Aces. The logjam will be resolved by the quotient system.

The eventual ninth placer, together with No. 10 Red Bull, will need to win two in a row in the wildcard plays to reach the quarterfinals.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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