|Unicaja will face a tough test as it hosts Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv on Thursday in Malaga, Spain, where it looks to clinch first place in Group A. Unicaja leads the group standings and will clinch first place if it beats Maccabi, avoiding other regular season champions - CSKA Moscow, Regal FC Barcelona and Tau Ceramica - in the upcoming Top 16. Maccabi could theoretically finish first, but it needs to win by at least 8 points if Olympiacos loses against Le Mans, or by 26 or more if Olympiacos wins this week. It will be a special game for Marcus Brown, who won the Spanish League title with Unicaja in the past and now returns with Maccabi. Brown and star playmaker Carlos Arroyo lead a deep Maccabi backcourt that also includes veteran guard Derrick Sharp and Tre Simmons. Arroyo will face a big battle against Carlos Cabezas and Omar Cook. Meanwhile, Brown will have a tough matchup against former teammate Berni Rodriguez, who knows him very well. Maccabi's main concern will be stopping Thomas Kelati, who will see playing time at both wings alongside Jiri Welsch and rebounding ace Carlos Jimenez. Tal Burstein will try to use his experience against Kelati, while Jimenez faces Omri Casspi. The battle in the paint will be one of the biggest keys to this game. Unicaja features Marcus Haislip, who is virtually unstoppable in one-on-one situations due to his athleticism and shooting range. December MVP Lior Eliyahu is the right man to go against him. Robert Archibald and Boni Ndong will power the boards against D'or Fischer and Marcus Fizer. Three-point specialist German Gabriel of Unicaja and center Yaniv Green of Maccabi could also have a big impact on the game. Above all, it is a clash of styles. Maccabi plays the up-tempo, run-and-gun, fun-to-watch basketball that coach Pini Gershon likes. Coach Aito Garcia Reneses has Unicaja using alternative defenses, including fullcourt presses after free throws made, as well as rotating players very often to keep high intensity at both end. Unicaja is naturally the favorite, having won 22 straight Euroleague games at Martin Carpena Arena, but it’s worth noting that the last time it lost in Malaga, the winning team was Maccabi.
- Center Boniface NDong recorded his first ever double-double in the Euroleague last week when he scored 13 and downed 10 rebounds on the road against Cibona.
- Guard Thomas Kelati saw his three-point shooting streak end last week in Zagreb when he finished a Euroleague game without a single made three-pointer for the first time. Kelati's best performace of the season was in Tel Aviv. He scored a season-high 23 points against Maccabi.
- Guard Carlos Cabezas's scored a career-best 32 points and dished 6 assists in the 2006-07 season opener in Tel Aviv, although that was not enough to lead his team to victory. He also achieved a career-best 41 index in that overtime defeat.
- Center Robert Archibald made his Euroleague debut against Maccabi in a November 2004 game in Tel Aviv. He played at the time for Scavolini Pesaro and later had a big Quarterfinal Playoffs series, averaging 11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks, although Maccabi swept the series.
- Unicaja’s current six-game winning streak is tied with Regal FC Barcelona for the longest streak of the season so far.
- Guard Omar Cook has dished at least 3 assists in every game this season. He is tied with Theo Papaloukas of Olympiacos with a league best 5.1 assists per game.
- Unicaja has not lost a home game in the Euroleague in over two years – a span of 22 straight games. The last team to beat Unicaja in Malaga was Maccabi in December 2006.
- Guard Marcus Brown spent two seasons in Malaga during his long Euroleague career. He played for Unicaja between 2005 and 2007, helping the team reach the Final Four in Athens in that second season. This will be his first game in Malaga since.
- Brown has scored at least one three-pointer in eight straight Euroleague games. Brown enters the game fourth on the Euroleague Basketball career list with 281 three-pointers.
- Brown and forward Lior Eliyahu are both on a streak of five straight games with double-figures in points. For both players the streak started against Unicaja.
- Eliyahu made his Euroleague debut against Unicaja in the 2006-07 season opener. He scored 12 points and grabbed 6 rebounds that night. Eliyahu also registered his lone multi-block game in the Euroleague against Unicaja later that season, and his lone blocked shot in this Euroleague season in the first leg game against Unicaja.
- Guard Tal Burstein is closing in on 1,000 points for his Euroleague Basketball career. He enters this week’s game against Olympiacos with 989 points in 133 career games. He also needs just 2 more three-pointers to reach 100 for his Euroleague career.
- D'or Fischer has recorded double-doubles in each of the last two games. Teammate Lior Eliyahu is the only player this season to have recorded three straight double-doubles. Fischer's season low in rebounds (4) came in the first leg game against Unicaja.
- Marcus Fizer produced his Euroleague career high in assists (4) against Unicaja last season, when the teams met in Tel Aviv.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009