Partizan Igokea hosts Euroleague champion Panathinaikos in an early top-of-the-table clash in Group C at Pionir Arena in Belgrade, Serbia, on Wednesday. The two teams are undefeated after two games this season and share first place in the group with Real Madrid. The Serbian champs boast the most dominant player in the Euroleague so far this season, center Nikola Pekovic. After earning Euroleague Week 1 MVP honors for his heroic performance in a home win over Barcelona, last week Pekovic, who isn't even a starter, scored the game-winning three-point play with 7.8 seconds remaining to beat Brose Baskets on the road. Pekovic has averaged 26 points on 79.3% shooting and 7.5 rebounds this season. Partizan's 67.5% two-point shooting is the best in the league so far and the Serbian champs are among the best in offensive rebounding. Panathinaikos has a slew of proven Euroleague stars with 2007 Euroleague Final Four MVP Dimitrios Diamantidis, 2005 Euroleague Final Four MVP Sarunas Jasikevicius and Vassilis Spanoulis leading the way from the backcourt. The Greens have been tested twice in their first two wins – both at home – before beating Lottomatica Roma and Brose Baskets Bamberg. The game will be a homecoming for Panathinaikos head coach Zeljko Obradovic, who played seven seasons for Partizan in the 1980s and then guided the team to its lone Euroleague title in 1992. Obradovic brings with him two more former Partizan greats, Milos Vujanic, who led the Euroleague in scoring with 25.7 points per game for Partizan in 2003 and center Dejan Tomasevic, who won two domestic titles with the club in the 1990s. Tomasevic, however, has been sidelined the last week and might not participate in Wednesday's game. Nonetheless, Panathinaikos's biggest advantage all season may be its incredible depth, which can allow Obradovic to tailor suit hit lineups to the opponents when needed. To matchup against Partizan's big men, Pekovic and Slavko Vranes, Panathinaikos will try numbers in the paint: Mike Batiste, Demos Dikoudis, Andrija Zizic and Kostas Tsartsaris. Milt Palacio and teenage sensation Milenko Tepic will try their luck against a Panathinaikos backcourt that boasts Saras, Spanoulis, Diamantidis, Vujanic and others. Forward Cedomir Vitkovac, who also been a key performer for Partizan head coach Dusko Vujosevic, will face off with Kennedy Winston. This will be Panathinaikos's first road game of the season and the tightly knit group from Partizan knows what kind of statement a victory over the champs would mean. Those reasons, along with a packed Pionir Arena, could give the hosts the edge they need for the win in a game that every basketball fan should make it his business to see.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007