|Two teams heading in completely different directions clash in Kaunas, Lithuania, on Thursday when Zalgiris hosts Panathinaikos. The Lithuanian champs are still hunting for their first win of the season, while Panathinaikos sits in a three-way tie for the top spot in Group B with a 4-1 record. Injuries and off-court issues have plagued Zalgiris all season long, but with a squad filled with homegrown players and young talents, head coach Gintaras Krapikas’s men can’t be overlooked. And if there is a head coach that will make sure his charges won’t overlook anyone, it’s Panathinaikos boss Zeljko Obradovic. The Greek champs will be confident, however, after crushing Zalgiris 78-51 in the season opener. Dimitris Diamantidis, who is having by far the best offensive season of his career to date, led the Greens with 15 points that night. Diamantidis is but one part of a strong Panathinaikos backcourt that also features Vassilis Spanoulis, Nikos Hatzivrettas, Drew Nicholas and Lithuanian star Sarunas Jasikevicius, who will play in his homeland for the first time since the 2004-05 season opener. Zalgris will counter with a number of players who grew up watching Jasikevicius shine for the national team like Zygimantas Janavicius, Mantas Kalnietis and Sarunas Vasiliaukas as well as struggling playmake Willie Deane, who is still looking for a breakout performance. Meanwhile former teammates of Jasikevicius’s on the Lithuanian national team, Jonas Maciulis, Dainius Salenga and Paulius Jankunas man the forward spots for Zalgiris next to center Loren Woods, who has been the team’s top player so far this season leading the club in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. Panathinaikos can count on a deeper frontcourt with Nikola Pekovic, Mike Batiste, Kostas Tsartsaris and Antonios Fotsis in addition to Stratos Perperoglou at small forward. Zalgiris is averaging a league low 60.4 points per game this season – 14 fewer per game than Panathinaikos. And Zalgiris leads the league in turnovers as well. Those are two areas the hosts must improve on the have a chance of winning. If Deane can rise to the occasion and the rest of the backcourt can limit the turnovers and generate more points, the Zalgiris fans could provide the lift needed to pick up their team and push them towards victory. Nevertheless, Panathinaikos’s veteran squad has the experience to handle any situation and remains the favorite to win even in Kaunas.
- Zalgiris is looking to avoid its worst ever start to a Euroleague season in seven years. The club also started the 2001-02 campaign with five consecutive losses, but has never started a season with six straight defeats.
- A number of current Zalgiris players played alongside Panathinaikos’s Sarunas Jasikevicius on the Lithuanian national team. Jonas Maciulis and Saras were teammates on the 2008 Olympic team. Paulias Jankunas, Maciulis and Saras were teammates on the 2007 team that won the bronze medal at the European championships. Eurelijus Zukauskas and Dainius Salenga played with Saras on the 2004 Olympic team and won the gold together at the 2003 European Championships. Zukauskas, Saras and Tomas Masiulis also played together on several national teams between 1998 and 2000.
- Rookie guard Sarunas Vasiliauskas made his Euroleague debut last week, but has not yet scored his first Euroleague points.
- Guard Dimitris Diamantidis is closing in on 200 steals for his Euroleague Basketball career. Diamantidis is fifth on the all-time list with 196. Only four players – Theo Papaloukas, Gianlica Basile, Pablo Prigioni and J.R. Holden – have reached 200.
- Diamantidis also needs just 1 more three-pointer to reach 100 for his Euroleague Basketball career. He has made at least 1 three-pointer in 12 straight Euroleague appearances dating back to last season.
- Big man Mike Batiste is closing in on the Euroleague Basketball career top 10 list for rebounding. Batiste is currently 12th with 657 career boards. Next is Tanoka Beard with 663 and Jorge Garbajosa is 10th with 667. The next active player with a chance to crash the top 10 would be teammate Kostas Tsartsaris, who enters this week’s game with 643 career boards.
- Tsartsaris needs only 3 more defensive rebounds to crack the all-time top 10 in that category. That distinction currently belongs to Anthony Parker with 460.
- Two Panathinaikos players have recorded their Euroleague career highs against their Week 1 opponent, Zalgiris. Fragiskos Alvertis netted 22 points in a road win at Kaunas in October 22. Sarunas Jasikevicius, then with Maccabi, scored 37 in an overtime win in April 2004.
- Jasikevicius grew up in Lithuania, but never played for Zalgiris. However his younger brother, Vytenis Jasikevicius, played three Euroleague games for Zalgiris during the 2006-07 season.
- Center Giorgi Shermadini made club history last week as the youngest foreign player to play for Panathinaikos. Shermadini scored twice versus Egaleoas in his debut. The Georgian center is 19 years old. Antonio Davis debuted at the age of 22 (1990-91) as did Arian Komazec (1992-93).
Wednesday, December 03, 2008