One team will get its first Top 16 victory and the other will have its back against the wall after Efes Pilsen welcomes Prokom Trefl Sopot to Istanbul, Turkey on Thursday for an important Group F encounter. Not only did neither team win its Top 16 opener, but neither came close to doing so. Efes Pilsen's 27-point defeat at Panathinaikos and Prokom's by 19 at Winterthur FC Barcelona were the biggest losing margins of Week 1. Whichever rebounds with a victory this week, however, will suddenly be tied for second place after Panathinaikos and Barcelona play each other. Efes and Prokom know each other as well as any from different countries possibly can after facing each other as many as eight times in the last three seasons. Efes has won all eight of those games, and therefore starts this one as a heavy favorite at home. Prokom is having some roster shakeups as well. In addition to veteran Jeff Nordgaard (2.3 ppg.), who is out with a long-term injury, Prokom will be without Justin Hamilton (5.1 ppg.), who was released this week at the same time that assistant coach Jacek Winnicki was let go. Also, shooting ace Donatas Slanina (10.5 ppg.) missed the weekend Polish League game, although he is expected to play on Thursday. Slanina highlights a deep battery of shooters featuring combo guards Christian Dalmau (11.7 ppg., 41.4% 3FG) and Tomas Pacesas, playmaker Rashid Atkins (6.7 ppg., 42.3% 3FG) or small forward Jasmin Hukic (6.4 ppg.). Atkins, Pacesas and Dalmau will have the tough mission to shut down the electric Efes backcourt combo of Drew Nicholas (13.9 ppg., 42.4% 3FG, 3.5 apg.) and Horace Jenkins (15.2 ppg.). Efes will get plenty of help, too, from Mustafa Abi started at small forward last week, while Cuneyt Erden (4.3 ppg., 42.4% 3FG), Cenk Akyol (6.2 ppg.) and a recovered Antonio Granger (3 ppg.) will be ready to come off the bench. Granger will test his shooting skills against Slanina while Akyol will have a tough matchup against a more experienced Hukic. Above all, it will be a special game for Prokom center Huseyin Besok (10.2 ppg., 4.5 rpg.), who returns to Istanbul to face his former team. Besok will test his strength and mid-range game against Ermal Kuqo (10.4 ppg.) and Nikola Prkacin (6.6 ppg.). Prokom has many resources around the basket, with effective, experienced players such as Tomas Masiulis (4.7 ppg., 3.9 rpg.), Michael Andersen (6.5 ppg.), Adam Wojcik (7.6 ppg.) and Filip Dylewicz (3.1 ppg.). Wojcik is set to have a power matchup against Kerem Gonlum (4.9 ppg., 4.3 rpg.) while Andersen and Besok will go against Marcus Haislip (13.8 ppg., 5.9 rpg., 1.8 bpg.), the top shot-blocker in the competition. Although Efes is the favorite, the odds are with Prokom to eventually end its eight-game skid against the host. At the very least, that is certainly extra motivation to get closer to the playoffs.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007