Olympiacos Piraeus hosts Real Madrid on Thursday at the Peace and Friendship Arena in a do-or-die battle for a spot in the Quarterfinal Playoffs. The two teams come into the game tied for the best record in Group F at 3-2, but neither can surpass Maccabi Elite, also 3-2, on tiebreakers if Maccabi beats Zalgiris at home in the group’s other game. Accordingly, if Maccabi wins, the winner of this game will advance to the playoffs from second place and face CSKA Moscow in the quarterfinals and if Maccabi loses, the winner of this game will win Group F and have home-court advantage for the best-of-three quarterfinals. Madrid had sole possession of first place until losing a heart-breaking overtime decision at home to Maccabi last week in overtime. On the other hand, Olympiacos has now won three in a row after losing its first two games of the Top 16. Madrid topped Olympiacos 80-70 in Spain when they met last month behind 16 points from Alex Mumbru. The Reds are a different team since then, improving their defense under head coach Panagiotis Giannakis. Last week his team held a high-scoring Zalgiris team to 52 points. However Madrid has scored the fourth most points in the Top 16. One secret to the Spanish champs’ success has been great ball control: Madrid has committed the fewest turnovers in the Top 16 – 11 per game – but is third in assists with 16 per game. Meanwhile Olympiacos’s offense has been sub par in the Top 16, but guard Lynn Greer has been the best player in the Top 16, winning at least a share of weekly MVP honors twice, leading the Top 16 in scoring and ranking among the top 10 in assists, steals and fouls drawn. In addition to Greer, center Marc Jackson has been effective inside, while forwards Qyntel Woods, Ioannis Bourousis, Girgios Printezis and Kostas Vasiliadis have all played key roles. Madrid matches up well with a deep roster led by scorers Louis Bullock and Charles Smith, forwards Felipe Reyes and Axel Hervelle and center Lazaros Papadopoulos. Between Papadopoulos and forward Michalis Pelekanos, who are both Greek, and big man Blagota Sekulic and Smith, who both have played for Greek clubs, Madrid should be well prepared for the atmosphere in Piraeus, where Olympiacos has gone 7-2 in Euroleague action this season. The tension will be high on Thursday in what promises to be a true battle between two teams that have Final Four aspirations and do not want to go home yet.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008