Panathinaikos will try to avoid complacency and take another key step in its march toward the Quarterfinal Playoffs when it welcomes alread-eliminated Prokom Trefl Sopot to OAKA Olympic Indoor Hall in Athens on Thursday. Panathinaikos (4-0) is qualified for the best-of-three playoffs, but can win Group G and assure itself two home games in the next round if it beats Prokom (1-3) and, in the other group game on Thursday, Efes Pilsen (0-4) downs Winterthur FC Barcelona (3-1). Even without winning the group on Thursday, a victory over Prokom will put Panathinaikos in good position to do so the final week of the Top 16, when it visits Winterthur in Barcelona with a 21-point advantage from their first game. A loss to Prokom, however, could jeapordize first place for the Greens. Prokom (1-3) is out of the playoff race but hopes to keep pleasing its fans with a very prestigious road win. When they faced each other in Sopot, Poland two weeks ago, Panathinaikos won a close game 69-75. Sani Becirovic (10.6 ppg., 2.3 apg.) and Mike Batiste (13.8 ppg., 6.8 rpg.) combined for the Greens' final 14 points, breaking an otherwise balanced game open. Becirovic has led Panathinaikos in scoring in each of the last three Euroleague games and has found his perfect backcourt complement in playmaker Dimitris Diamantidis (8.9 ppg., 4 rpg., 4.2 apg., 2.7 spg.). Milos Vujanic (4.3 ppg.) is ready to provide points and creativity off the bench, while Nikos Hatzivrettas (9 ppg., 43.6% 3FG) and Tony Delk (9.5 ppg.) share quality playing time at both wings. A big letdown for Panathinaikos, however, will be the absence of Ramunas Siskauskas (9.6 ppg., 45.3% 3FG), who will be sidelined for at least 20 days due to injury. Diamantidis will have to slow Prokom's full-time playmaker Rashid Atkins (7.8 ppg., 47.4% 3FG, 2.6 apg.), while the whole Panathinaikos backcourt will face a battery of shooters like Donatas Slanina (10.8 ppg., 87.2% FT), Christian Dalmau (10.6 ppg.) or Jasmin Hukic (6.4 ppg.). Panathinaikos will also have to be concerned about stopping Huseyin Besok (9.9 ppg., 41.7% 3FG, 4.6 rpg.), who leads a deep Prokom frontcourt with experienced players like Tomas Masiulis (4.4 ppg., 3.9 rpg.) or Adam Wojcik (7.1 ppg.), a solid center in Michael Andersen (7.1 ppg., 3.5 rpg.) and a mobile, physical power forward in Filip Dylewicz (4.2 ppg., 3.2 rpg.). Besok and Andersen will have a strong test against Demos Dikoudis (7.9 ppg., 64.3% 2FG), Dejan Tomasevic (7.3 ppg., 4.9 rpg.) or little-used Robertas Javtokas (2.6 ppg.). Meanwhile, Masiulis and Dylewicz will try to make the most out of their mobility against Batiste or Kostas Tsartsaris (8.4 ppg., 5.3 rpg.). Panathinaikos is the heavy favorite for this game, but Prokom arrives without pressure, ready to play a good game and challenge one of the deepest teams in the competition.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007