We know we need to win if we want to advance. We also have other chances, but we want to take the safest one - beating Crvena Zvezda, which depends on us and us only. Even though Zvezda has no chance to advance, it will not be willing to give away presents just like that. It will be a tough opponent, everyone knows that, and we have to show that we can advance, that Panathinaikos is a team that deserves to be considered one of the top eight in Europe. If we want to do that, we need to make up for the loss we had against ALBA. That was a missed chance at home, which forces us to win in Belgrade. We play for a big goal and this is when we have to show our character and ambition as a team.
Zvezda is a tough opponent and the game will be played at Pionir, but nothing can surprise us at this point. We know that Zvezda will not give any win away for free. They will be ready to play a good game and make things difficult for us. It will be a very tough game; there is a big sports rivalry between both teams, even though they are from different countries. Even so, we have to stay away from any rivalry and all that stuff and be focused on what it is at stake. This game is like a final for us. We want to depend on ourselves. It is the only thing we control – and then whatever happens, happens. We hope to show we can be a playoffs team.
We missed a very good chance against ALBA. We had control of the game, but ALBA rallied in the final minutes. ALBA is like a German machine; they play the same way all 40 minutes, no matter if they are winning or losing by 20. They keep going and going, plus we had ups and downs in crucial moments. At some point we lost control of the game and allowed them to believe they could win. They are a good team that makes the most out of those situations.
We won the Greek Cup this weekend! It is the first time that a team has won four consecutive Greek Cup titles – or so I was told. Nobody has done that before, so I am happy about it. It was our first goal this season, chronologically speaking. We could have already made it to the Euroleague playoffs, which is another goal for us, but we hope to do so this week. This was my second consecutive cup title! It was very different from the Turkish Cup title I won with Pinar Karsiyaka, a more humble team. Panathinaikos is a huge team, with a lot of tradition, and being able to help it win a trophy makes me really proud. I am happy we won the cup, but four days later, we have another huge game in front of us. We are fully focused on beating Zvezda. I cannot say it enough times; this game is like a final. This is hottest time of the season and we have to be ready and focused.
We are not even thinking about the possibility of being eliminated. Panathinaikos is undergoing some changes, trying to build a younger roster, while staying really competitive. It is a must for this club to fight for the highest goals possible. The goal is being in the Euroleague playoffs. This is what we are fighting for, what we want and what we have been working on since the beginning of the season. We will try not to put extra pressure on our shoulders, even though we all know what Panathinaikos means and want to defend this jersey and live up to its great tradition. We hope that that the pressure we may have won't turn against us. We have to be quiet and know that we wear the Panathinaikos jersey, which means we have to be fully focused on winning this important game.
I have played in Pionir before - once, against Partizan Belgrade, with Anadolu Efes. It was a strong atmosphere;- you can feel why they call it the home-court advantage. At the end of the day, we play five against five and the crowd will do what they have to do, but they do not score baskets or play defense. We have to be focused on what happens on the court, not off the court. James Gist played in Pionir with Partizan many times and so did DeMarcus Nelson with Crvena Zvezda. I guess only one of them will be truly welcomed! Still, we are experienced players and have to stay away from that kind of stuff. In the end, we are privileged to be part of these games. Every player wants to be part of that, feel it and enjoy the experience. Strong atmospheres are always good, part of our job, and again, it is all about punching our playoffs ticket, nothing else.
I have to play against Boban Marjanovic. You just need to check the stats to see what an amazing season he is having. He is very big. We played against them before and the most important thing is that we all play our role to win; Marjanovic can have the numbers he wants as long as we win the game. He always posts great numbers, but we have to play well so that his great performance doesn't have an impact in the final score.
We cannot think about anything else but winning the game. We are not in a situation to choose anything, but just to try to make it to the next stage. Only when we manage to go through, if we do, we will think about our next opponent. It wouldn't be very mature to think of who we can play next because this is a do-or-die game for us. It is the most important game of the season and we cannot think about anything else even for one second. I hope we can keep playing the Euroleague beyond next week, that's all we want right now!