AEK Athens hosts Tau Ceramica in Greece on Wednesday for a Group A game that both teams feel they must win. A victory for Tau (7-3) will seal its participation in the Top 16, while ensuring a least a share of the group lead with Zalgiris. A win for AEK (3-7) will keep alive the team's narrow hopes of reaching the next stage. Currently, AEK is three victories from fifth place, which guarantees a Top 16 spot, and just one victory away from the wild-card 16th berth to the next round, which goes to the best sixth-place team across the three groups. Group B's sixth-place team from Athens, Olympiacos, has four victories to lead that particular race. All of which means that every game from this point on will have do-or-die intensity for AEK. When these teams last met in November, Luis Scola scored 16 to take Tau to a 77-62 victory in Spain. AEK has played well at home this year, winning three of four, two against teams above it, Climamio and Zalgiris AEK should also have a healthy roster for this game. Giannis Bouroussis (7.4 ppg., 7.1 rpg.), who had missed the last two games, was back in action for a Greek League win on Sunday, while illness had also slowed down reserve Amit Tamir of late. Taylor Coppenrath (10.2 ppg.) and Pantelemeimon Papaiokeim were playing most of the minutes recently, but a healthy four-man frontcourt will be important against Tau. Last year's Euroleague runner-up boasts power in the paint, starting with Scola (16.3 ppg., 6.8 rpg.), Kornel David (10 ppg., 5.3 rpg.), Tiago Splitter (9.1 ppg.) and Predrag Drobnjak. Scola is on the verge of a Euroleague milestone this week as 9 points scored would make him just second player to reach 1,500 for his career, after Marcus Brown of Unicaja. Splitter is coming off a big week after leading Tau with 17 points and 8 boards in only 18 minutes in a home victory over Union Olimpija. Lionel Chalmers (18 ppg. and 3.2 apg. in his last five games) has become AEK's first option on offense, but he is also capable of finding the open man when if double-teamed. Slaven Rimac (9.2 ppg.) and Michalis Pelekanos (17.5 points over last two games) are among those who benefit from better looks when defenses chase Chalmers. The league leader in assists, Tau's Pablo Prigioni (6 ppg., 6.8 apg.), is the opposite of Chalmers. He passes first and scores only as a last resort, often freeding perimeter scorers Serkan Erdogan (10.5 ppg.) and Casey Jacobsen (7.7 ppg.). Both of them will be needed against AEK because forward Travis Hansen (11 ppg., 46.1% 3FG) will miss a second consecutive game with back trouble, while another swingman, Sergi Vidal, is doubtful after a foot injury. AEK might be without backup point guard Spiros Panteliadis (9.7 ppg.), too, after he missed the last Euroleague and Greek League games. Tau's depth makes it difficult to focus on particular players to stop, but AEK might have to risk such a tactic, considering how important this game is. It will be up to Chalmers to dictate the game's pace if low-scoring AEK (67.8 ppg.) is to narrow the gap with its high-scoring visitors (79.9 ppg.). If Prigioni and backup Roko-Leni Ukic are allowed to control the tempo, Tau's big men will be free to do damage that can endanger AEK's survival.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006