Two Euroleague powerhouses meet again with plenty at stake on Thursday when Efes Pilsen welcomes Panathinaikos to Athens for a key Group F encounter. Efes (0-3) needs to start winning right away in order to keep its playoff chances alive. Meanwhile, Panathinaikos (3-0) will advance to the Quarterfinals Playoffs if it beats Efes and will inch closer to clinching first place in the group. Panathinaikos and Efes enjoy a spirited rivalry, having played six vital games in the last three seasons. The Greens hold a 4-2 edge in that series, but each team has won on the other's home court. When these teams faced each other in Athens, Greece last month, Panathinaikos thrashed Efes 84-57 behind 20 points from Demos Dikoudis (7-8 ppg.). Efes has sinced released Horace Jenkins (14.5 ppg.), its top scorer in that first game, while Cenk Akyol (5.9 ppg.) stays sidelined this week. Under the circumstances, Drew Nicholas (14.3 ppg., 41.4% 3FG) will be the go-to guy in the Efes backcourt, while Cuneyt Erden (4.9 ppg., 46.5% 3FG), who fired in 5 triples against Barcelona last week, will take on extra responsibility. Small forward Antonio Granger (5.3 ppg.), meanwhile, is fully recovered and ready to see extended playing time. Fikret Can Akin (2 ppg.) is expected to share the point guard duties with Erden while Mustafa Abi (1.5 ppg.) will help at both wings. Erden and Akin will have the tough mission to go against two-time Euroleague Best Defender Trophy winner Dimitris Diamantidis (8.9 ppg., 4.1 apg., 2.5 spg.), who has his perfect backcourt complement in Sani Becirovic (10.3 ppg., 40.4% 3FG), who has averaged 21 points in the last two games. Both players highlight a star-flooded backcourt featuring Ramunas Siskauskas (9.3 ppg., 44.7% 3FG), Milos Vujanic (4.3 ppg.), Nikos Hatzivrettas (9.1 ppg., 45.8% 3FG) and Tony Delk (9.5 ppg.). The battle in the paint will be crucial, as Efes bases its game on a battery of big men. Marcus Haislip (13.9 ppg., 6.3 rpg.) is a mismatch for every team to due his shooting range, athleticism and quickness, while Nikola Prkacin (6.6 ppg., 3.6 rpg.) can be dominating in the low post. Ermal Kuqo (9.3 ppg.) has improved his offensive game, adding a long-range shot to his trademark turnaround jumper, while Kerem Gonlum (4.9 ppg., 4.5 rpg.) is an excellent rebounder at both ends. Prkacin and Kuqo will have a big challenge against Mike Batiste (14.2 ppg., 70.3% 2FG, 7 rpg.), who has returned to his best level after a long injury. Dejan Tomasevic (7.5 ppg., 4.9 rpg.) stays as one of the best high post centers in the competition, while Dikoudis and Kostas Tsartsaris (8.3 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) will try to stop Prkacin down low, as will Robertas Javtokas (2.6 ppg.) with Haislip. Above all, Efes is in a do-or-die situation, so Panathinaikos can expect another tough battle in Istanbul this week.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007