|A much-anticipated matchup between two old rivals takes place near Athens on Thursday when Olympiacos Piraeus hosts Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv at the Peace and Friendship Stadium. This game takes on new meaning when looking at the Reds’ lineup, which now includes two of Maccabi’s biggest stars in recent years, center Nikola Vujcic and guard Yotam Halperin. Both those two are only a small part of the makeover the Olympiacos underwent this summer to prepare for an assault on the Euroleague crown. And so far the results have been positive with a 2-1 record after suffering a loss at Cibona last week. Maccabi has also retooled and like every season, has its eyes on the Final Four. And just like Olympiacos, it has started out 2-1 with a loss at Cibona. Now the teams will go head-to-head knowing that only the winner will have a winning record when the night is done. The new-look Maccabi led by point guard Carlos Arroyo has the same high-scoring characteristics as its predecessors with the team second in the league in scoring (83.7 ppg.) and tied for first in assists (16 apg.). Olympiacos has also been offensive minded and ranks among the top four clubs in points (80.7 ppg.), rebounds (37.7 rpg.) and assists (14 apg.). Arroyo is joined by Marcus Brown, Tal Burstein and Tre Simmons in an athletic backcourt that can handle the ball, score and play defense. Olympiacos has an impressive collection of perimeter players as well with Halperin, Theo Papaloukas, Lynn Greer and Milos Teodosic. In addition to Halperin and Burstein being former teammates, Brown and Papaloukas reached two Final Fours together with CSKA Moscow. Josh Childress has fit in nicely at small forward for the hosts, but he will try to stay ahead of Maccabi’s Jason Williams and Omri Casspi this week. In the paint, Vujcic anchors a frontline that boasts Ioannis Bourousis, Zoran Erceg and Georgios Printezis. Maccabi will look to three of Vujcic’s former partners, Yaniv Green, Esteban Batista and Lior Eliyahu, to try and contain the big man, though ultimately it could be newcomer D’Or Fischer – one of the most efficient players in the league with 19 points per game on 80% shooting so far – that gets the nod from head coach Efy Birenboim. These teams know each other exceptionally well, which adds spice to a game that anyway would be quite attractive. The amount of stars on these squads and the way they attack the baskets means that this game could be an extremely entertaining battle as well as a turning point for one side in Group A.
- Maccabi hosted Olympiacos for a special pre-season game, to honor Nikola Vujcic. Olympiacos won only after an over-time.
- Head coach Panagiotis Giannakis's first game as a coach in the Euroleague was last season against Maccabi. It was the opening game of the Top 16 and Maccabi won 67-75 in Piraeus. Yotam Halperin, now with Olympiacos, led Maccabi with 16 points.
- Guard Lynn Greer had two of his best performances of the season last year against Maccabi. In the first game he had 26 points and an index of 31 and in Tel Aviv he scored 27 and had an index rating of 37. In both games he won the weekly MVP award.
- One of Nikola Vujcic's best games in the Euroleague was against Olympiacos in Game 1 of the Euroleague Quarterfinal Playoffs in 2006. He scored 23 points with only 4 missed shots in addition to 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks and 9 fouls drawn to total an index rating of 38.
- Guard Yotam Halperin needs just 4 more steals to reach 100 for his Euroleague Basketball career.
- Big man Sofoklis Schortianitis recorded his Euroleague debut against Maccabi in Week 2 of the 2005-06 season. He excelled with 13 points and an index rating of 22 as Olympiacos beat the then-Euroleague champs 83-78.
- Last season Marcus Brown, then with Zalgiris, played four times against Olympiacos. He averaged 14.5 points in those meetings, but only won one of them.
- Brown will face former teammate Theo Papaloukas. The two played together at CSKA Moscow between 2003 and 2005, helping the club win two Russian League championships and reach two Euroleague Final Fours. The first of those Final Fours was in Tel Aviv, where CSKA lost to Maccabi in the semifinals.
- Swingman Tal Burstein enters his team’s game at Olympiacos needing only 2 more assists to reach 250 for his Euroleague Basketball career. He is also just 4 three-pointers shy of 100.
- Derrick Sharp's Euroleague career-high in minutes played was registered against Olympiacos on April 6, 2006 in Game 2 of the Quarterfinal Playoffs. Sharp spent 36 minutes on the floor, during which he scored 11 points. Olympiacos won that game 76-70, but Maccabi won the series 2-1 and advanced to the Final Four in Prague.
- Guard Dror Hagag played in the Euroleague for the first time in the 2005-06 season with Greek club AEK Athens. He was a teammate of current Olympiacos players Ioannis Bourousis and Mikhalis Pelekanos on that team.
- Forward Lior Eliyahu has played in 43 Euroleague games for Maccabi in the past two-and-a-half seasons, but has never played against Olympiacos.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008