A classic showdown will take place in Barcelona, Spain on Thursday night when Winterthur FCB faces Maccabi Tel Aviv, in a tough battle between the last two Euroleague champions in Group B. Barcelona took its first-ever Euroleague title in 2003, while Maccabi has become the first back-to-back continental titlest in a generation. There will be plenty of drama on Thursday, because one of these preseason favorites, now tied 3-3, will reach midway point of the regular season with a losing record. Maccabi is 0-2 on the road so far, having lost to Olympiacos in Athens and to Efes Pilsen in Istanbul. Barcelona has already dropped a home game unexpectedly, to Lietuvos Rytas in Week 3. There will be big matchups all over the court, even though Barcelona star Juan Carlos Navarro will miss the game due to a leg injury. Maccabi bases its game on a highly-talented frontcourt in which Nikola Vujcic (14.5 ppg., 6.6 rpg., 5.5 apg.) and Maceo Baston (11.1 ppg., 60.5% FG, 5.6 rpg.) play the major roles. Jaime Arnold (9.8 ppg., 4.3 rpg.) will be ready to provide instant offense off the bench. Barcelona counts on center Denis Marconato (6 rpg., 1.3 bpg.) as its defensive anchor, and on Gregor Fucka (5.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg.) and Michalis Kakiouzis (12.1 ppg, 50% 3FG) to open Maccabi's defense with their shooting range and versatility. One of the biggest matchups of the night will feature defensive stopper Rodrigo De La Fuente (2.7 rpg, 1.7 apg,) on a tough mission to slow do-it-all swingman Anthony Parker (12.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.8 apg.), the Euroleague MVP last season and one of Maccabi's top scorers. Barcelona has one of the best backcourts in the competition even with Navarro sidelined. Bootsy Thornton (6.5 ppg.) and Gianluca Basile (10.3 ppg., 78.5% 2FG) will have bigger roles without him, while also having to work on defense against Parker, Tal Burstein (5.5 ppg., 4 rpg., 3.5 apg.) and shooter Kirk Penney (6.2 ppg.). If Maccabi manages to slow down Shammond Williams (14.1 ppg., 4.1 apg.), its winning chances will dramatically increase, although former Euroleague scoring champ Milos Vujanic could explode at any minute for the hosts. The same could be said, however, of Will Solomon (15.6 ppg.) and the always-decisive Derrick Sharp (10.8 ppg, 57.1% 3FG), who share Maccabi's point guard duties. Expect an all-out battle as two giants fight to avoid dropping further in Group B.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005