A heated matchup between a pair of age-old rivals will take place on Thursday when Cibona hosts Partizan Belgrade at the Drazen Petrovic Center in Zagreb, Croatia. The two teams, long-time domestic rivals before the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, have already met three times this season, with Partizan winning twice, but Cibona taking the lone game in Croatia. Partizan big men Predrag Drobnjak and Kosta Perovic came up big in a 101-92 double-overtime thriller in November in which nine players fouled out. The Serbian champs' other big man, Nikola Pekovic, scored a season-high 18 to lead his club to an 82-71 win in the Adriatic League just two-and-a-half weeks ago. This game will be about more than just the rivalry however, as both teams are stuck in a four-way tie for fourth place in Group B and know that every win is crucial to the teams' Top 16 hopes. Partizan has lost its last two games and four of its last five and has not won on the road since November. Meanwhile, Cibona has dropped three straight, even though all three were close games. Though both teams feature dominant playmakers, this game has all the potential to be decided in the paint. Cibona center Marton Bader must avoid foul trouble and reserves Luksa Andric and Jurica Zuza will need to muscle up on defense against Drobnjak (15.9 ppg., 7.3 rpg.), Perovic (10.1 ppg., 6.5 rpg., 1.5 bpg.) and Pekovic. But on the other end, Cibona will look to use power forward Brent Wright's (13.2 ppg., 7.8 rpg.) speed to its advantage. Wright is averaging 5.6 points more per game at home than on the road. The winter break helped Andrew Wisniewski grow acclimated with his new team as he proved last week with 22 points and 4 assists. With him in the backcourt, Cibona's perimeter rotation is deeper than ever with Davor Kus (12.7 ppg.), Chris Warren (12.5 ppg.) and sixth man Jerry McCullough (10 ppg.). Vonteego Cummings (13 ppg., 3.9 apg., 2 spg.) runs the attack for Partizan, with Uros Tripkovic – who's regained his stroke with 17 points per in his last two games – and Dusan Kecman rounding out the lineup. Even when there's nothing at stake, these teams don't take each other lightly and it's all the more so when engaged in a battle for positioning within the group. The home-court advantage will surely help the Croatia champs, but Partizan has shown that it can play on the road too. Wright could well be the pivotal player in this game. If he can draw fouls and trouble the Partizan frontline, Cibona could coast. However if Drobnjak and Perovic can use their considerable height advantages to score on Wright, Partizan becomes the favorite.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007