Group B co-leader Efes Pilsen will look to bounce out of its recent slump when it hosts Armani Jeans Milano in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday. Efes (5-2) recorded a 66-71 win at Milano on opening night behind 20 points and 11 rebounds by Kaya Peker. Efes then won three more in a row, but has now dropped two of three decisions, both at home, including a surprise 71-77 loss against Cibona last week. Efes is also slowed by various minor injuries to players like Henry Domercant, Antonio Granger and Cenk Aykol, although all are expected play against Milano. That, however, is not the case for Milano big man Josep Blair, who is counted out for a second straight game. Milano (2-5), tied for last place in the group, suffered its worst loss of the season, 89-67 at Olympiacos last week. The only good news was the play of big man Giacomo Galanda, who scored a season-high 15 points. Despite its recent drop in form, Efes has benefited from Granger (9.7 ppg.) finally finding his scoring touch, which will be crucial in the long run. Granger has averaged 19 points in the last two games after getting 5.4 points per game in the first five. Peker (14.4 ppg., 5.5 rpg.) is the team's top scorer with frontcourt mate Nikola Prkacin (12.1 ppg., 5.7 rpg.) not far behind. The third member of the effective interior trio, Kerem Gonlum (6.4 rpg.), has been quiet on the offensive end, but a monster on the glass. In the absence of Blair, Milano will rely on the versatily of big men Diego Fajardo (8.5 ppg.), Sven Schultze and Galanda (10 ppg., 5.5 rpg.). No team has committed more turnovers than Milano this season (16.3), which is sure to catch the eye Efes defensive ace Domercant (11.8 ppg., 2.7 steals), who ranks fifth in the Euroleague in steals. Despite having three starters with solid ball-handling skills – Massimo Bullleri (13.5 ppg., 3.1 apg.), Dante Calabria (10.8 ppg., 2.7 steals) and Preston Shumpert (9.8 ppg.) - Milano lacks a pass-first playmaker and may suffer the pressure that Efes puts on the ball. Domercant will be joined by Marko Popovic (12.2 ppg.) and Ender Arslan in the effort to disrupt Milano's attack. Just last month, Efes recorded its 20th straight home win in the Euroleague and was beginning to look unbeatable at Abdi Ipekci Sports Hall. But after back-to-back defeats, the Turkish champs must now rebuild the aura at their home. When Popovic has struggled, so has Efes, so his matchup with Milano leader Bulleri could prove decisive on Thursday.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005