|A pair of Euroleague superpowers looking to get back to the Final Four square off in Piraeus on Tuesday when Olympiacos hosts Real Madrid for Game 1 of their best-of-five Quarterfinal Playoffs series at the Peace and Friendship Stadium. The two teams were among the best in the Top 16, both going 5-1. But while the Reds won Group E by beating Tau Ceramica in the road in the finale, Madrid finished second in Group F by virtue of a tiebreaker. The two teams know each other quite well. Not only did they meet twice in the Top 16 last season, but Olympiacos features swingman Michalis Pelekanos, who played for Madrid last year, while Real boasts to players that shined in the Greek League last season: Jeremiah Massey with Aris and Kennedy Winston with Panathinaikos. The two teams are experienced and deep, which could lead to an unforgettable series. The Reds are led by point guard and former Euroleague MVP Theo Papaloukas, even though he is his team’s sixth man. Yotam Halperin, Lynn Greer and Jannero Pargo complete the Olympiacos backcourt that will square off against Raul Lopez, Sergio Llull, Pepe Sanchez and Louis Bullock. The matchup between scorers Pargo and Bullock could be the most explosive of them all. Now back at full strength, Josh Childress is an important cog at forward for the Reds, where he teams with Georgios Printezis and Panos Vasilopoulos against Alex Mumbru, Axel Hervelle, Marko Tomas and Winston. In the paint, Felipe Reyes, Tomas Van den Spiegel and Massey will try to disrupt Olympiacos’s Nikola Vujcic, Ioannis Bourousis and Zoran Erceg. Vujcic has been at his best lately, but facing the taller and longer Van den Spiegel could stifle his scoring and passing abilities. The establishment of momentum and the ability of both benches to contribute as expected could be deciding factors in Game 1. Finding a guard tall enough to handle Papaloukas will be important for the Whites, while trusting the less experienced Erceg to make up the minutes of the suspended Sofoklis Schortsanitis as the only real big man off the bench could impact Olympiacos, especially if Vujcic or Bourousis fall into foul trouble. Although Olympiacos is always favored at home, Madrid’s record on the road is not too shabby either and this game and series could be a back-and-forth encounter that goes the distance.
- Center Nikola Vujcic has returned to the elite level that saw him named to the All-Euroleague first and second teams five times. Over his past four Euroleague games, Vujcic has averaged 21.3 points on 64.1% two-point shooting , 5.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
- Point guard Theo Papaloukas has dished a minimum of 4 assists in every game this season and is tied for second in the Euroleague in that category with 5.0 per game.
- Swingman Michalis Pelekanos injured his elbow in the Greek League on Saturday and will miss at least the first game of the quarterfinals series.
- Pelekanos played for Real Madrid last season and saw action in 17 Euroleague games with the club. He was a teammate of six current Madrid players under head coach Joan Plaza.
- Big man Sofoklis Schortsanitis will miss the Quarterfinal Playoffs series after Olympiacos suspended him for one month due to disciplinary reasons.
- Olympiacos clinched a spot in the 2008 Quarterfinal Playoffs after beating Real Madrid in the Top 16 finale 72-63 in Piraeus. Panos Vasilopoulos sparked the Reds with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in that win.
- Guard Louis Bullock has made at least 1 three-pointer in nine straight Euroleague games.(21 for 49)
- Bullock is 3 triples away from becoming just the seventh player to make 250 three-pointers in his Euroleague Basketball career.
- Center Tomas Van den Spiegel enters this week’s games in 13th place on the Euroleague Basketball career shots blocked list with 75. He is 3 away from reaching Eurelijus Zukauskas and Tiago Splitter, who are tied for 10th place.
- Forward Alex Mumbru established his Euroleague career-high in points with 21 against Olympiacos in November 2002. Madrid won that game 73-66.
- Guard Raul Lopez set his Euroleague career high in assists against Olympiacos in December 2000. Lopez came off the bench and dished 9 assists, but it wasn’t enough as the Reds won 91-84.
- Ten players in this series took part in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Madrid’s Felipe Reyes, Raul Lopez and Alex Mumbru won silver medals as members of the Spanish national team. Marko Tomas of Madrid played for Croatia. Olympiacos’s Theo Papaloukas, Ioanis Bourousis, Panos Vasilpopoulos, Georgios Printezis, Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Michalis Pelekanos played for Greece under head coach Panagiotis Giannakis.
Monday, March 23, 2009