A battle of Euroleague powerhouses in Top 16 Group F is set to take place in Barcelona, where Winterthur FCB hosts Efes Pilsen on Thursday. Barcelona (1-1) hopes to bounce back from its road loss against group leader Panathinaikos last week while Efes Pilsen (0-2) needs to start winning right away in order to keep its playoff chances alive. Efes might be without Cenk Akyol (5.9 ppg.) and Horace Jenkins (14.5 ppg.), who are questionable for this game, so players like Cuneyt Erden 4.2 ppg., 41.7% 3FG), Mustafa Abi (1.6 ppg.) and a fully recovered Antonio Granger (5 ppg., 45.5% 3FG) will be called upon to help top gun Drew Nicholas (14.2 ppg., 41.7% 3FG, 3.3 apg.). Erden and Nicholas will share the point guard duties and go against Jaka Lakovic (10.6 ppg., 3.6 apg.) and Roko-Leni Ukic (5 ppg., 47.6% 3FG). Meanwhile, Nicholas and Granger will test their shooting skills against scoring machine Juan Carlos Navarro (17.3 ppg., 89.6% FT) and offensive-minded guard Gianluca Basile (10.7 ppg., 42.7% 3FG). Granger is set to have a big battle against defensive aces Roger Grimau (3.2 ppg.) and Rodrigo De La Fuente (4.2 ppg., 42.9% 3FG). The battle in the paint will arguably be the biggest key to this game, as Efes will try to get use its deep frontcourt to an advantage. Marcus Haislip (13.7 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 1.9 bpg.) is a natural-born mismatch due to his combination of speed, size, range and athleticism, but he might have some trouble against mobile forward Jordi Trias (6.8 ppg., 67.7% 2FG, 4.7 rpg., 2.4 apg.), who is having a career-best season. Efes has plenty to offer near the basket, as Ermal Kuqo (9.9 ppg.) offers both mid-range accuracy and power at the rim, Kerem Gonlum (5.1 ppg., 4.6 rpg.) is an outstanding offensive rebounder able to guard any big man, while Nikola Prkacin (6.4 ppg., 3.4 rpg.) highlights his set of post moves with a dangerous turnaround jumper. Prkacin and Kuqo will be ready to battle experienced center Denis Marconato (6.5 ppg., 66.1% 2FG, 4.2 rpg.) and defensive ace Fran Vazquez (5.5 ppg., 1.4 bpg.). With Mario Kasun (11.9 ppg., 87.5% FG) still sidelined, Efes may well have an advantage in the middle, but its main concern will be stopping Navarro and Lakovic. Even stopping Navarro's point production isn't always enough: he led all regular season scorers (18 ppg.) and now leads the Top 16 in assists (8.5 apg.) Above all, two classic Euroleague teams are ready to battle for a step forward in the race to the Quarterfinal Playoffs, so expect a fight to the finish in Barcelona on Thursday.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007