|A big battle for different goals in Group B is expected in Athens, Greece, where Euroleague defending champion Panathinaikos hosts Armani Jeans Milano on Thursday at 18:00 CET. Panathinaikos joins a three-way with Khimki and Real Madrid atop the Group D standings at 4-1, three wins away from AJ Milano, EWE Baskets and Asseco Prokom, all tied for fourth place at 1-4. Milano, however, plays three of its last four games at home, so an upset against Panathinaikos would catapult the team closer to the Top 16. It won't be an easy task, however, as Panathinaikos won its two home games by an averaging margin of 34 points. Sarunas Jasikevicius and Milenko Tepic are in doubt for this match. Saras has not played any game in this season but returned to practice this week. Meanwhile, Tepic missed the Greek League derby against Olympiacos due to a back injury. As such, Dimitris Diamantidis and Vassilis Spanoulis will share the point guard duties, with Nick Calathes ready to offer a helping hand. Drew Nicholas will see most minutes at shooting guard, with Stratos Perperoglou ready to offer defense and determination at small forward. With Alex Acker once again out for this game, Stefano Macinelli and Jonas Maciulis will see most minutes at both wings. Panathinaikos can opt to use Diamantidis to guard Maciulis due to his versatility and quickness. Jeff Viggiano and Marco Mordente are ready to come off the bench to provide fire power against Nicholas and Spanoulis. Morris Finley will see most minutes at point guard for AJ, with Massimo Bulleri ready to come off the bench and contribute with his experience and court sense. The biggest key of this game, however, will be to find out if AJ Milano is able to stop Nikola Pekovic and a recovered Mike Batiste around the baskets. Pekovic is a mismatch due to his size and mobility, becoming the perfect complement for Batiste's intensity and physical game. With Marius Petravicius still sidelined, Mason Rocca and Joey Beard are set to battle against Pekovic, with Mike Hall ready to guard Batiste. Panathinaikos is deeper around the baskets, as it can open the floor with Kostas Tsartsaris and Antonis Fotsis or use center Giorgi Shermadini if Pekovic gets into foul trouble. Panathinaikos must stay focused and look for Pekovic and Batiste down low. AJ Milano must control the game tempo, just like EWE Baskets did in the first half against the Greens last week. Even when Panathinaikos is the hevay favourite, expect AJ to be a tough opponent in already a critical game for the guests.
REFEREES: Volodymyr Drabikovskyi, Sinisa Herceg, Sergey Mikhaylov
Milenko Tepic has had some of his best individual performances against Armani Jeans Milano. Tepic dished a career-best 8 assists for Partizan in an 81-76 regular season win in Belgrade last November and scored a career-high 19 in a 73-59 loss in Milano the following month.
Drew Nicholas played with Armani Jeans Milano shooter Marco Mordente during the 2005-06 season at Benetton Treviso. Together they won the Italian League title.
Nicholas needs just 1 more three-pointer to reach 200 for his Euroleague career.
Nikola Pekovic has scored in double figures in every game this season and in 13 of his last 14 games dating back to last season.
Mike Batiste scored 25 points in his season debut last week against EWE Baskets Oldenburg.
Vassilis Spanoulis has made 10 straight free throws over his past three games.
Armani Jeans Milano
Jonas Maciulis has an active streak of 12 consecutive Euroleague games with double figures in points, dating back to last season.
Maciulis has made at least one three-pointer in 16 consecutive Euroleague games, dating back to last season.
Maciulis scored a season-high 20 points last week at Real Madrid.
Alex Acker has picked up at least 1 steal in nine consecutive Euroleague appearances, dating back to last season.
Armani Jeans has blocked the fewest shots of any team in the Euroleague this season (3).
Wednesday, December 2, 2009