|Another chapter will be written in a budding Euroleague rivalry on Thursday when Partizan Belgrade hosts Panathinaikos with first place in Group G on the line. The buzz around this game has reached new heights with the contest moved to the Belgrade Arena and some 20,000 fans expected to fill the stands. Both teams have already clinched Quarterfinal Playoffs berths and now want to lock down home-court advantage for the next stage. Panathinaikos trumped Partizan 81-63 behind a season-high 26 points from Partizan product and All-Euroleague center Nikola Pekovic, a result that has great bearing on this game. If the Greens, who are 4-0 in the Top 16, win in Belgrade, they win Group G. If Partizan (3-1) wins by more than 18, it would control its own destiny. A win by 18 or fewer for head coach Dusko Vujosevic’s men would leave Panathinaikos in the top spot and able to clinch first next week with a win or a Partizan defeat. The game is the sixth between the two teams in the last two seasons. They met last season four times, including twice in the Top 16 with Partizan knocking out the then-Euroleague champs on the last day of the round. If that weren’t enough to spice up the rivalry, Panathinaikos head coach Zeljko Obradovic played for Partizan and later coached the club to its only Euroleague crown in 1992. And in addition to Pekovic, the Greens plucked swingman Dusan Kecman away from Partizan over the summer. Partizan has been red-hot of late, winning three in a row – including a pair of thrillers over Unicaja. The heart of the team has been forward Novica Velickovic, who was named Euroleague Basketball’s MVP for February for his performances in those wins. He teams with Stephane Lasme, Jan Vesely and 2.29-meter center Slavko Vranes to anchor the Serbian champs’ frontline against Pekovic, Mike Batiste and Kostas Tsartsaris. While the hosts boast the depth up front, no one can match the size of Panathinaikos’s backcourt with the likes of Sarunas Jasikevicius, Vassilis Spanoulis, Dimitris Diamantidis, Drew Nicholas and Kecman. Partizan turns to the young and hungry Milenko Tepic, Aleksandar Rasic and three-point marksman Uros Tripkovic to play the bulk of its minutes at guard. Small forward Stratos Perperoglou of Panathinaikos will have an interesting role, needing to match up with the taller Vesely, the athletic Lasme or even Velickovic depending on the lineups Partizan uses. Games like these have no favorites. The quality of the players and coaches and the atmosphere created by 20,000 Partizan supporters will come together on Thursday to create a classic basketball experience where everyone involved will go home a winner.
- Forward Novica Velickovic was named Euroleague Basketball’s MVP for February after leading Partizan to a 3-0 record with 16 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
- Guard Uros Tripkovic has made at least one three-pointer in 12 consecutive Euroleague games. He is shooting 45.3% from downtown over that span.
- Tripkovic achieved his career-high in steals, 5, against Panathinaikos in a January 2006 game. Tripkovic also scored 24 points in that game.
- The magic number for Partizan has been 80 points. The Serbian champs have won 11 of the last 12 games in which they have scored at least 80.
- Big man Stephane Lasme has blocked a shot in six consecutive games. Lasme scored a season-high 20 points in last week’s win at Unicaja.
- Head coach Zeljko Obradovic served Partizan as both a player and a coach. He moved there from Borac Cacak and when he retired from his playing career, immediately became coach and led them to a fantastic 1991-92 season, as they won the club’s only Euroleague crown as well as the Yugoslavian national championship and the Yugoslavian Cup.
- Center Nikola Pekovic and swingman Dusan Kecman will play against their previous team. The duo helped Partizan to beat the Greens at home, 82-73, in last season’s Top 16 finale to make it to the Quarterfinal Playoffs.
- Pekovic scored a season-high 26 points against his former team in the Top 16 opener in January.
- Pekovic leads the Top 16 in free throws made (27), attempted (28) and his free-throw percentage (96.4%) is best among any player with at least 15 attempts.
- Kecman will play in his 100th career Euroleague Basketball game this week.
- Forward Antonis Fotsis is 1 three-pointer away from 100 for his Euroleague career.
- Guard Sarunas Jasikevicius is just 1 steal shy of the 100-steal plateau for his Euroleague career.
- Five Panathinaikos players will return to the site of one of their biggest triumphs. Dimitris Diamantidis, Vassilis Spanoulis, Fotsis, Kostas Tsartsaris and Nikos Hatzivrettas were members of the Greek national team that won the 2005 European Championships by beating Germany in the gold medal game at Beogradska Arena, site of this week’s contest.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009