Panathinaikos puts its undefeated Group B record on the line Thursday when it hosts DKV Joventut at OAKA Olympic Arena in Athens, Greece. Panathinaikos (7-0), only the second team to reach the midway point of the Euroleague regular season this decade undefeated, edged Maccabi Tel Aviv 90-88 last week in a game that went down to the wire. Joventut (4-3), which is tied for second place in Group B, edged Union Olimpija on the road 67-69 last week behind Rudy Fernandez's 17 points. The Greens trailed by as many as 24 points before rallying to take down Joventut 79-82 in this season's opening game in October. Mike Batiste, the Euroleague MVP of the month for November, led the comeback effort for Panathinaikos with a season-high 25 points in 23 minutes. Coach Zeljko Obradovic's side ranks third in the league in scoring this season with 84.4 points per game, but will need to make due without injured swingman Ramunas Siskauskas. Injuries are nothing new to Joventut coach Aito Garcia Reneses, who has been without starting center Andrew Betts for over a month and only now welcomes back small forward Lubos Barton (14.3 ppg., 2.3 spg.) from a three-game absence. Even Fernandez has missed time with an injury. Batiste is Panathinaikos's leader in points (15.9 ppg.), rebounds (7.1 rpg.) and blocks (1.1 bpg.), but the team's top scoring threats have been on the perimeter with Nikos Hatzivrettas (12 ppg.), Tony Delk (11.3 ppg.) and Dimitrios Diamantidis (9.7 ppg., 4 apg., 2.9 spg.), who are shooting a combined 44% from beyond the arc this season, and Sani Becirovic (9 ppg.). Kostas Tsartsaris, Dejan Tomasevic and Demos Dikoudis are Batiste's associates on the frontline. Fernandez (15.3 ppg., 66.7% 2FG, 50% 3FG, 90% FT) is Joventut's shooting star, with Elmer Bennett (10.1 ppg.) running the show and Robert Archibald (7 ppg., 4.8 rpg.) and Charles Gaines (8.3 ppg., 7.1 rpg.) inside. Teenage sensation Ricky Rubio has become a key player off the bench, leading the league in steals with 3.2 per game. It will be tough for Joventut to catch Panathinaikos off-guard after the nail-biter they played on opening night. However, with Barton back, a tough and experienced Joventut side, which is 2-2 on the road this season, has what it takes to challenge the Greens from start to finish.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006