Armani Jeans has its back to the wall in Group B when it hosts Cibona Zagreb on Wednesday in Milan, Italy. After its four consecutive losses in the the group, Milano (2-8) cannot afford a home defeat without seeing its hopes of qualifying for the Top 16 end. Meanwhile, Cibona (5-5) is at the heart of the race, tied currently for fourth place, and any road win would be a welcome boost for its own Top 16 ambitions. When these teams last met in November, Damir Markota came off the bench for a season-high 17 points to lead Cibona to a 67-60 victory. Diego Fajardo had his best game of the season with 19 points and 13 rebounds for Milano in defeat. This time, however, Milano (2-8) will have to overcome the absence of Fajardo (7.9 ppg.), who broke a bone in his hand last week. Cibona has several players nursing injuries, the most questionable of them Bennett Davison, with shoulder trouble. Although he and teammates Scoonie Penn, Mrkota and Davor Marcelic all will travel, it is unclear who among them will play or how much. This game doesn't promise many points, as Milano averages 70.6 and Cibona 66.6 points per game, the second-fewest in the league. However, both defenses have been known to give up points in bunches. In half of each team's games, opponents have scored at least 80 points: Milano and Cibona lost in all of those game. Cibona's (5-5) key to winning will be keeping Milano below that 80-point threshold. For that, it will need strong defensive efforts in the paint from Davison (10 ppg., 6.7 rpg.) and youngsters Markota (9.2 ppg.) and Luksa Andric against Milan's veteran inside crew with Joseph Blair (7 ppg., 7.1 rpg.), Giacomo Galanda (10.4 ppg.) and Sven Schultze. New addition Tyrone Grant, who had 6 points and 8 boards in his debut last week, could also play a factor for the hosts. Massimo Bulleri (12.9 ppg., 3.1 apg.) leads the Milano attack from outside with Dante Calabria (12 ppg.) and Preston Shumpert (8.6 ppg.), who scored a season-high 18 last time versus Cibona in Zagreb. Bulleri will have a tough time in his head-to-head duel with Penn (14 ppg., 2.4 spg.) and Davor Kus (9.7 ppg.), who shares the point and often plays alongside Penn. The key for the visitors side will be on defense, and especially around the basket. If Cibona can make it even under the rim, the game might come down to the guards with the ball in their hands. A standout performance by either Penn or Bulleri could seal a victory for his respective team.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006