Two teams in the thick of the playoffs race face each other on Wednesday when Panathinaikos OPAP Athens hosts KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. The Greens seem to have found their rhythm under Coach Rick Pitino and have won their four last games, including a road win at CSKA Moscow last week. On the other side, Baskonia has won five of its last six games and is also on a final push to make the playoffs. The hosts are just one win behind the visitors, so the stakes in this game, with four games to go in the regular season, are as high as they come.
Earlier this season
This will be the 25th time that these two sides clash in the EuroLeague and at the moment, their record is tied 12-12. In their last meeting in Round 9, Baskonia won at home 86-77 led by six players in double digits in points. Toko Shengelia led the way with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. For Panathinaikos, Keith Langford had 33 points, but it was not enough to stop Baskonia from taking the win.
Georgios Papagiannis and Vincent Poirier are sure to be the main stars in the duel in the paint. Over his last three games, Papagiannis seems to have exploded for Panathinaikos. He's averaged 12.0 points and 6.3 rebounds in those three wins for the Greens, making 18 of 21 two-point shots. On the other side, Poirier is becoming more and more important for Baskonia, even more so with the absence of Toko Shengelia. Poirier has averaged 11.2 points and 7.7 rebounds in 26 appearances this season, 21 of them as a starter. Their clash will play a significant role in this game.
Keys to victory: Panathinaikos
Panathinaikos is in a sweet moment and it has come at the right time. However, nothing is done yet and the Greens will have to work hard under the boards to stop Baskonia's league-third-best 35.4 rebounds per game. Baskonia is also third in assists (18.9 apg.), so the hosts will have to step up in defense especially, as they seem to have the offensive side of Coach Pitino's philosophy down by now. The home crowd will surely be a big boost for Panathinaikos in this final push for a playoff berth that seemed so far away less than a month ago.
Keys to victory: Baskonia
Baskonia's injury problems could be a big burden during this two-round week. The visitors are missing some of their top contributors in Toko Shengelia, Jayson Granger and now also Matt Janning. The rest of the players will have to step up to play hard in order to maintain their current place among the top eight in the standings. Defense will be paramount, as the Greens have increased their point production in the last games and at home they will be in a good position to keep that trend going. Panathinaikos has the second-weakest numbers in the league shooting from beyond the arc, so packing the paint and letting the Greens fire away from downtown could be a good way to go for Baskonia.