Two EuroLeague classic teams meet again when Zalgiris (7-11) tries to snap a four-game losing streak and catch Panathinaikos (8-10) in the standings. After going 13-4 at home last season, Zalgiris is 3-7 in front of its diehard fans in this one. Brandon Davies (15 ppg.) has been its top scorer until now, followed by Nate Wolters (12 ppg.) and Aaron White (9.1 ppg.). Panathinaikos carries a six-game road losing streak. Its last win away from Athens was against Buducnost on November 2. Nick Calathes (11.2 ppg., 8.1 apg.) has been its main pillar until now, but the Greens expect a lot from recent signing Sean Kilpatrick, a scoring guard who is set to make his EuroLeague debut in Kaunas. Big man Adreian Payne, who was with the Greens last season for 12 games, has signed with them again and might be available on Friday, as well.
Slowing down Davies inside is mandatory for Panathinaikos in order to win this game. Davies has been unstoppable until now, averaging 15 points on 55.9% two-point shooting and grabbing 5.7 rebounds per game for a PIR of 17.1. Davies faces a tough challenge against former Best Defender Trophy winner Stephane Lasme, a shot-blocking specialist due to his timing and experience, who fits perfectly in Coach Rick Pitino's defensive approach.
Earlier this season
Zalgiris needed overtime to down Panathinaikos 83-87 in the Greek capital. Davies made a hard-fought tip-in with 6 seconds to go in regulation to send the game into overtime. Once in the extra period, Davies and Edgaras Ulanovas made the difference down the stretch. Davies led the winners with 18 points. Thomas Walkup added 14 for Zalgiris, while Calathes led Panathinaikos with 22 points. As such, the Greens will need a five-point win in Kaunas to get a tie-break advantage against Zalgiris.
Keys to victory: Zalgiris
Zalgiris is averaging 78.4 points per game at home this season, third worst in the league. Only Darussafaka and Buducnost score less at home. Zalgiris is shooting the ball well (54.9% 2FG, 38.8% 3FG) but picking up a lot of turnovers (14.4, first overall) at Zalgirio Arena. It will need better ball circulation in general, so Wolters and Derrick Walton must keep control of the game tempo against two more experienced players like Calathes and former Zalgiris playmaker Lukas Lekavicius.
Keys to victory: Panathinaikos
Since Coach Pitino arrived, Panathinaikos has averaged 86.5 points at home but just 66.5 on the road. Barcelona pulled down 15 offensive rebounds against the Greens last week, so controlling its own board is mandatory for Panathinaikos. Once it has those defensive rebounds, Panathinaikos can run its transition offense through Calathes, Lekavicius and Nikos Pappas, generally finding better shots.