Panathinaikos will look to bounce back from its first Group C loss of the season when it hosts Partizan Belgrade on Wednesday at OAKA Olympic Hall in Athens, Greece. The Greens were off to one of the best Euroleague starts all decade before falling on the road at Unicaja 67-61 last week in what was easily the team's worst offensive output of the season. Partizan, meanwhile, ended a three-game slide with a 106-60 pounding of Union Olimpija. That game was Partizan's highest scoring of the season. While Panathinaikos (11-1) has already secured first place in Group B and with it a top seed for the Top 16 draw, Partizan (5-7) is still in the thick of the battle for a spot in the next stage. Tied with three other teams for fourth place in the group, every win is critical for Partizan. Some key players on both teams are certainly familiar with one another, starting at the top, where Partizan's man on the sidelines, Dusko Vujosevic, coached Panathinaikos maestro Zeljko Obradovic for four seasons before the latter turned to coaching. Vujosevic also guided Panathinaikos guard Milos Vujanic early in his career, while Obradovic is familiar with several of Partizan's top players from his days with the Serbian national team. When these teams met earlier in the season, the Greek champs took a tough 65-73 decision behind strong outings from power forward Mike Batiste and point guard Dimitrios Diamantidis. Batiste, who posted 15 points and 11 rebounds that night, has missed his team's last three games with a calf injury. His status for Wednesday is unclear, but he did not play in the Greek League on the weekend. His absence hurt coach Obradovic's side last week. Batiste could help offset Partizan's big, strong frontline, led by Predrag Drobnjak and Kosta Perovic, but in his absence Panathinaikos will need Dejan Tomasevic, Demos Dikoudis (8.1 ppg.), Kostas Tsartsaris (8.7 ppg.) and Robertas Javtoks to help deal with the visitors' size. Drobnjak (16.5 ppg., 7.1 rpg.) and Perovic (11.1 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 1.5 bpg.) are not only an extremely dangerous tandem, but the presence of Nikola Pekovic on the bench means the twin-tower effort is a constant threat during games. Partizan playmaker Vonteego Cummings (12.7 ppg., 3.5 apg.) will have his work cut out for him against Diamantidis (8.8 ppg., 3.8 apg., 2.6 spg., 1 bpg.), while matchups on the wings - Uros Tripkovic (9 ppg.), Dusan Kecman and Luka Bogdanovic of Partizan vs. Ramunas Siskauskas (7.9 ppg.), Tony Delk (9.4 ppg.), Nikos Hatzivrettas (8.9 ppg.) and Sani Becirovic (8.2 ppg.) of Panathinaikos - will be crucial for both teams. Ultimately, this game could be decided inside and could be affected by Batiste's presence or absence, although the Panathinaikos backcourt has been known to take over games just as much as any big men.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007