Group F will have an exclusive leader after two games of the Top 16 after a showdown of perennial powerhouses, Panathinaikos and Winterthur FC Barcelona, at OAKA Olympic Hall in Athens on Wednesday. Both teams are undefeated in Group F after one week during which Panathinaikos thrashed Efes Pilsen 84-57 while Barcelona downed Prokom Trefl Sopot 92-73, both at home. This will be a very special game for Barcelona playmaker Jaka Lakovic (11.3 ppg., 3.8 apg.), who returns to Athens to face Panathinaikos for the first time since leaving the Greens last summer. Lakovic joined Panathinaikos in summer 2002 and helped the Greens to win four consecutive Greek League and three Greek Cup titles between 2003 and 2006. Lakovic is part of a star-flooded Barcelona backcourt also featuring Gianluca Basile (11.4 ppg., 43.2% 3FG), Roko-Leni Ukic (4.7 ppg., 47.4% 3FG), Roger Grimau (2.6 ppg.) and, above all, Juan Carlos Navarro (17 ppg., 89.6% FT), the regular season scoring champ. Navarro will test his scoring skills against Dimitris Diamantidis (8.7 ppg., 3.9 apg., 2.6 spg.), a two-time Euroleague Best Defender Trophy winner. Basile, Lakovic and Ukic will go up against Sani Becirovic (8.7 ppg.) and former Winterthur FCB guard Milos Vujanic (4.6 ppg.). Panathinaikos will miss the injured Tony Delk (10.3 ppg.), who hurt his shoulder in domestic play on Saturday, leaving more minutes for Ramunas Siskauskas (9 ppg., 47.4% 3FG). Siskauskas comes off a big game against Efes Pilsen but faces a tough defender in Rodrigo De La Fuente (4.5 ppg., 45% 3FG). With Mike Batiste (14.7 ppg., 68.4% 2FG) back on court, Panathinaikos has a renewed low-post threat in a frontcourt already filled with solid veterans like Dimos Dikoudis (8.5 ppg.), Dejan Tomasevic (7.2 ppg., 4.5 rpg.) or Kostas Tsartsaris. Batiste will go against Jordi Trias (6.1 ppg., 4.9 rpg.), a hard-nosed defender and versatile offensive presence now playing the best basketball of his short, promising career. With Mario Kasun (11.9 ppg.) still sidelined, Michalis Kakiouzis (6.5 ppg.), Denis Marconato (6.4 ppg., 65.4% 2FG) and Fran Vazquez (5.6 ppg.) will have to step up in front of a sea of Panathinaikos fans to challenge the Greens inside. These two highly ambitious teams are amoung the last four clubs to lift the Euroleague trophy - Barcelona having won in 2003, Panathinaikos in 2002 - and both know the stakes here. Wednesday's winner will be a clear favorite to advance to the Quarterfinal Playoffs and, should it continue in first place, a homecourt advantage in the next round. All of which makes their second game in the Top 16, on the same floor where the Final Four will be played, a ready-made classic.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007