Two giants of the sport clash in the Greek capital on Thursday when old rivals Panathinaikos and Real Madrid meet. The Greens are the hottest team in the league with six straight wins and a seventh would give Coach Rick Pitino's men a playoff berth this week. Panathinaikos could also advance with a loss depending on other results. Madrid, which has lost three of its last four road games, retains an outside chance of finishing the regular season in the top spot, but must win this game to do so.
In their previous meeting
Madrid has won four straight games against Panathinaikos. Three of them came in last season's playoffs, while the most recent was an 89-68 rout in Round 13 of the current season. Panathinaikos trailed by only 5 early in the fourth quarter before Los Blancos used runs of 8-0 and 13-0 to put the game away. Fabien Causeur led the way for Madrid with 14 points, Facundo Campazzo had 13 points and 5 assists and Walter Tavares added 11 points and 7 rebounds. Keith Langford scored 20 points in a losing effort and Nick Calathes collected 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
Nick Calathes in an All-EuroLeague First Team point guard and his Madrid counterpart Sergio Llull was the EuroLeague MVP just two seasons ago. The two are among the premier players at their position and their respective impacts on the game will go a long way toward deciding the outcome. Coach Pitino has opted to not have Calathes guard the opposing team's playmaker in recent games in order to keep him fresher to run the offense, but either way, these two will find themselves squaring off often on both sides of the court in a true marquee matchup.
Keys to victory: Panathinaikos
During its current winning streak, Panathinaikos has scored 90 points four times and the Greens are 6-0 this season when reaching that number. Defense has also played a role with Panathinaikos twice keeping its opponents to 70 points or fewer in that run. Against Madrid, the Greens will need a little bit of both, but an efficient Nick Calathes-led attack is a must in an effort to outscore Madrid.
Keys to victory: Madrid
Few men can look Madrid's 2.21-meter tower of power Walter Tavares in the eyes, but Panathinaikos's young center Georgios Papagiannis is one of them. Madrid has made a habit of dominating the paint with Tavares and Gustavo Ayon at the pivot and Anthony Randolph and Trey Thompkins complementing them at the '4'. However, Papagiannis is on the rise and the Greens have veterans at power forward with James Gist and Ioannis Papapetrou. It won't be easy, but if Madrid can stamp its usual authority on the painted area, it will have a great chance to win on the road.