Two of the biggest teams in European basketball meet in the Russian capital to fight for very different goals when CSKA Moscow hosts Panathinaikos in Group D on Wednesday.
CSKA and Panathinaikos combined for four of the last five Euroleague titles, but while the Greens lead Group D along with Efes Pilsen and Union Olimpija at 4-2, CSKA is on the ropes and sixth with a worrying 1-5 record.
Moreover, CSKA is without center Sasha Kaun and All-Euroleague forward Viktor Khryapa, last season's Euroleague Best Defender, who will not play against the Greens due to a bad ankle. As such, Boban Marjanovic and Dimitry Sokolov will split minutes at center, while Matjaz Smodis and Andrey Vorontsevich will give CSKA's interim coach Dmitry Shakulin several options at power forward. Smodis offers experience, post skills and shooting range, while Vorontsevich provides fresh legs, three-point shots and more athleticism.
Panathinaikos is without All-Euroleague center Aleks Maric, so Mike Batiste will be the Greens' main reference around the basket. Ian Vougioukas and Kostas Tsartsaris will also see playing time at center to battle against Sokolov and Smodis. Antonis Fotsis is the right man to guard Vorontsevich due to his size and quickness, while Kostas Kaimakoglou may see extended playing time as backup forward, too. Panathinaikos's main concern will be stopping Jamont Gordon and former Green superstar Ramunas Siskauskas, as CSKA runs its offense through these two players.
Gordon provides penetration skills, shooting range and explosiveness, while Siskauskas is a natural-born mismatch due to his size, ball-handling and one-on-one skills. Trajan Langdon offers experience and deep shooting range and Nikita Kurbanov is a good defensive stopper at either forward. Gordon will not have it easy against a great on-the-ball defender like Milenko Tepic. Langdon will test his legendary scoring skills against former Alphonso Ford Trophy winner Drew Nicholas.
Meanwhile, Panathinaikos will rely on Stratos Perperoglou and Romain Sato to stop Siskauskas, in what could be the key matchup in this game. The point guard battle will be interesting, as J.R. Holden of CSKA and Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos have played many times against each other and there are no basketball secrets between them. Alexey Shved and Nick Calathes are ready to offer a helping hand off the bench.
Expect an outstanding showdown, as the game is already decisive for CSKA, which has made it to the Euroleague Final Four every season since 2003 and may need this win to stay alive in the long run.
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