A pair of banged-up Group A teams will battle it out in Lithuania on Thursday when Zalgiris Kaunas hosts Benetton Treviso with position at the top of the standings in play. A win for Benetton (3-0) would be worth its weight in gold, keeping it above the rest of the group and among the few undefeated teams left in the Euroleague. Should the win go to Zalgiris (2-1), however, both teams would be tied with at least one more in the top position. Benetton continues to miss scoring ace Ramunas Siskauskas, whose back troubles have kept him out since Week 1, and travelled to Lithuania without reserve forward Andrea Bargnani, who is nursing knee problems. Their absences mean that guard Drew Nicholas (16.3 ppg.) will continue to see plenty of shots, a good thing considering that he has had a hot hand recently. Nicholas scored 26 points in last week's home win over Climamio and has made 7-of-13 three-pointers over the last two games. Zalgiris, still without all-Euroleague center Tanoka Beard, will also miss forward Simonas Serapinas (7.3 ppg.) who was injured in domestic play over the weekend, while the participation of guard Vidas Ginevicius (4.6 ppg.) is questionable due to injury. In their stead, backcourt players Ed Cota (5 ppg.), Elias Ayuso (8 ppg.) and Reggie Freeman (13.7 ppg., 6 rpg.) will need to pick up their games for Zalgiris, while trying to limit their team's 16 turnovers per game. That's because Benetton, the league leader with just 8.7 turnovers on average, will not make gifts of its possessions, lease of all point guard Nikos Zisis (12 ppg., 5 apg.), who boasts a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Safe but sure ball movement might help Zalgiris's low 68.7 point-per-game scoring, among the lowest in the league. The absence of Beard could hurt the hosts in more than one way. Aside from his points and rebounds, his defensive presence – and fouls to give – could be sorely lacked against Benetton's starting frontline of Marcus Goree (13.3 ppg., 8.7 rpg., 2 bpg.) and Petar Popovic (11.6 ppg.). Therefore, the play on both ends of forward Paulius Jankunas (13 ppg., 6.3 rpg.), center Darjus Lavrinovic (10.3 ppg., 5.7 rpg.) and big Darius Silinksas, author of a double-double in last week's loss at AEK, will be crucial to the home team's chances.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005