Two teams coming off big wins clash in the Serbian capital when Partizan Belgrade hosts Efes Pilsen on Thursday night at Pionir Arena. Partizan handed Group B leader Unicaja its first loss last week to improve to 3-3. Efes bested Lietuvos Rytas and also improved to 3-3. The two teams are tied with L. Rytas for third place in the group, but one of the trio could be on the outside looking in when it comes to Top 16 spots, making every game between them crucial. The focal point of this game could be at center, where each team has celebrated players. Partizan’s Aleks Maric is in the midst of an outstanding Euroleague debut campaign and ranks second in the competition in index ranking thanks to his outstanding performances in the paint. But this week he will tango with Efes’s deep frontline, which can throw out a number of different looks from the explosive Mario Kasun, the powerful Kaya Peker, the technically sound Ermal Kuqo or the hero of last week’s win, veteran Daniel Santiago. How Maric and his backup, Slavko Vranes, respond to Efes’s depth will surely have an impact on the outcome. The hosts’ other sparkplug this year has been point guard Bo McCalebb, a first-time Euroleaguer who should be somewhat familiar with Efes after playing in Turkey for Mersin Belediyesi last season. The duo of Kerem Tunceri and Edner Arslan will be charged with limiting his damage. Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy winner Igor Rakocevic, who grew up at Partizan’s main local rival, Crvena Zvezda, leads a dangerous perimeter attack that also features Bootsy Thornton, Charles Smith and Preston Shumpert. Dusan Kecman and Aleksandar Rasic, who both have played for Efes in the past, and Jan Vesely will be among those asked to stop the visitors from heating up. Lawrence Roberts and teenager Branislav Dekic round out the hosts’ lineup and will be stuck guarding Bostjan Nachbar, who though inconsistent thus far, has the ability to break out at any moment. Smith, Rakocevic and Shumpert combined for 49 points as Efes Pilsen beat Partizan 77-70 in October. Partizan’s ability to contain them this time could be the key factor in the game. And if the Serbian champs are winning down the stretch, keep an eye on the margin of victory, since a win by 8 points or more could have major tiebreak implications in the future.
REFEREES: Daniel Hierrezuelo, Vicente Bulto, Marek Cmikiewicz
Dusan Kecman played for Efes Pilsen during the 2004-05 season. He took part in 15 Euroleague games, helping the club climb within one win of a Final Four berth. He was teammate of current Efes players Kaya Peker, Ermal Kuqo and Ender Arslan.
Guard Aleksandar Rasic finished the 2006-07 season at Efes Pilsen, playing five games in the Turkish League. Rasic scored 18 points against Efes in an 83-77 victory last season.
Dusan Kecman scored a season-high 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season last week against Unicaja.
Slavko Vranes has blocked at least 1 shot in all six games this season.
Bo McCalebb has scored in double figures in all six games this season.
Partizan has committed more fouls this season than any other team in the league (152).
Jan Vesely did not foul out of the game for the first time this season last week against Unicaja.
Shooting guard Sinan Guler made his Euroleague debut in the first game of the season last year against Partizan. Efes won the game 61-60.
Guard Bootsy Thornton swiped a career-best 8 steals for Montepaschi Siena against Partizan in a February 2008 game. Montepaschi won the game 71-54.
Kaya Peker needs just 1 more blocked shot to reach 20th place on the Euroelague’s career shot-blocking charts. He has blocked 71 shots in 137 games over his career.
Charles Smith has made 15 consecutive free throws over his past nine Euroleague appearances.
Smith scored a season-high 18 points in a Week 2 win over Partizan.
Daniel Santiago scored a season-high 17 points in just 13-and-a-half minutes last week against Lietuvos Rytas.
Igor Rakocevic scored a season-high 16 points last week against Lietuvos Rytas.
Preston Shumpert scored a season-high 17 points in a Week 2 win over Partizan.