By JONAS TERRADO
It seems that all teams except for one are engaged in separate races as slots in the eight-team playoffs of the PBA Philippine Cup remain up for grabs with the elimination round entering its final month.
Defending champion San Miguel Beer, Magnolia and Alaska are all but assured of making the quarters with six wins apiece as of Sunday even as they still eye twice-to-beat incentives given to the top two teams after the elims.
Six teams – 4-3 Rain or Shine and TNT KaTropa and 3-4 NLEX, Phoenix, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and GlobalPort – could see themselves either move up or fall in one swoop with one crucial result.
Meralco and Blackwater, in a share of 10th and 11th at 2-5, are ballclubs that would be in danger of seeing their quarterfinal hopes disappear with another defeat while 1-6 Kia appears to be sure of the first team to suffer an early exit in the season-opening tournament.
The final four weeks of the elims will see if some teams can benefit from their strength of schedule and the others overcoming the tough task of taking on fancied rivals.
San Miguel, which regained the solo lead at 6-1 following Sunday’s 77-76 win over Magnolia at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City, faces Blackwater on Feb. 9, Alaska on Feb. 17, Kia on Feb. 23 and Rain or Shine on Feb. 28.
After its five-game winning streak was snapped and it dropped to a tie with Alaska for second at 6-2, Magnolia meets Rain or Shine on Feb. 10, GlobalPort on Feb. 16 and Meralco on Feb. 24.
Alaska, which has risen to contention after a 0-2 start, meets NLEX on Feb. 11, San Miguel on Feb. 17, and Rain or Shine on Feb. 23.
Rain or Shine’s resolve will be tested despite trade rumors that swirled around Jericho Cruz, Raymond Almazan and Beau Belga, with matches against San Miguel on Feb. 28 and Ginebra on March 2 as litmus tests for the Caloy Garcia-coached squad.
Ginebra hopes to regain the old form that won the Governors’ Cup crown last year when it faces Kia on Wednesday, TNT on Feb. 11, Meralco on Feb. 18 and ROS on March 2.