|Two teams with important goals face off Wednesday in Istanbul, Turkey, when Efes Pilsen hosts CSKA Moscow. Efes can clinch a berth to the Top 16 this week with a win, while CSKA could potentially wrap up first place if it wins and Real Madrid loses at Armani Jeans Milano on Thursday. Efes won its last two games before the winter break to improve to 4-4, but must also beat CSKA to avoid finishing the regular season with a losing record at home. Meanwhile CSKA dropped a rare home decision to Madrid before the break to fall to 6-2. The champs are back to 100% health after missing key players like J.R. Holden, Ramunas Siskauskas and Matjaz Smodis for chunks of the season until now. Head coach Ettore Messina’s men should have plenty of confidence heading into this game after spanking Efes 90-68 in November in a game where they tied the Euroleague record with 18 three-pointers made and smashed the record for best accuracy by shooting 72% from downtown. Siskauskas led five CSKA scorers in double figures with 19 points and Trajan Langdon and Terence Morris drilled 5 three-pointers apiece. Charles Smith was also red-hot from downtown that night, making 6 of 9 threes to lead Efes with 22 points. Other than Smith’s shooting, head coach Ergin Ataman will look to erase the memories of that game with a strong team effort, particularly on defense. CSKA is tied for the fewest turnovers committed this season (11.4 per game) and leads the competition in three-point shooting (46.5%), two things Efes’s deep backcourt will try to change. With a rotation that is headed by Milos Vujanic and Bootsy Thornton and also features Ender Arslan and Cliff Hammonds plus Smith and Preston Shumpert at small forward, Efes will look to wear down CSKA’s backcourt of Holden, Langdon, Siskauskas, Nikos Zisis and Zoran Planinic. Inside, Efes looks to Kerem Gonlum, Kaya Peker and Michailis Kakiouzis and could get a boost if Mario Kasun is available for the first time this season after recovering from injury. They will challenge Smodis, Morris, Erazem Lorbek and Viktor Khryapa. Both teams have plenty of offensive firepower, but defense will surely be the key to victory. Efes has won every game in which it has limited its opponent to fewer than 75 points this season and lost whenever it surrendered more than that. And CSKA has only allowed more than 70 points twice this season – and lost both times. Accordingly this game should also be a low-scoring and tense affair that could go down to the wire.
- Forward Michailis Kakiouzis needs only 6 more defensive rebounds to reach 500 for his career – a feat only seven players to date have accomplished.
- Efes Pilsen leads the all-time series against CSKA Moscow 7-5. Efes won five in a row between 1997 and 2003, but CSKA has won the last four, including sweeping the 2006 Quarterfinal Playoffs 2-0.
- Bootsy Thornton needs only 3 more three-pointers to reach 100 for his career.
- Guard Milos Vujanic will take part in his 100th Euroleague game this week. Vujanic has played those games for five different teams: 26 for Partizan Belgrade, 40 for Fortitudo Bologna, four for FC Barcelona, 21 for Panathinaikos and now nine for Efes Pilsen.
- Vujanic was a teammate of CSKA captain Matjaz Smodis and big man Erazem Lorbek on Skipper Bologna in the 2003-04 season. That team reached the Euroleague title game before losing to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
- Thornton and Kakiouzis were teammates of CSKA assistant coach David Vanterpool at Montepaschi Siena between 2003 and 2005.
- Reigning Euroleague MVP Ramunas Siskauskas is just 2 steals away from reaching 100 for his Euroleague Basketball career.
- Swingman Trajan Langdon spent the 2003-04 season playing for Efes Pilsen. He helped the club win the Turkish League championship and come within one win of the Euroleague Final Four. Three players from Efes’s current roster – Kaya Peker, Cenk Akyol and Ender Arslan – were teammates of his then. Langdon has only played Efes Pilsen three times since he left the team and averaged 17 points on 12-for-19 three-point shooting in those games.
- Guard Nikos Zisis scored a career-high 22 points against Efes Pilsen in a March 2005 game. Zisis, then with AEK Athens, won the game with a miracle shot at the buzzer for a 70-69 victory. He fell down, got up and hit a turnaround three-pointer over two defenders as the horn sounded to finish a heroic comeback from 13 points down late in the third quarter.
- Guard Zoran Planinic set his career-high in assists against Efes Pilsen in a January 2007 game. Planinic, then with Tau Ceramica, dished 10 assists in a 78-84 road win in Istanbul.
- When CSKA last played Efes in November, the reigning Euroleague champs tied the Euroleague record with 18 three-pointers made and smashed the record for best accuracy by shooting 72% from downtown.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009