Following painful losses to Barcelona and Baskonia, respectively, Olympiacos and Panathinaikos face each other at Piece and Friendship Stadium on Friday night (20:00 CET), in one of Euroleague’s biggest rivalries.
The “Reds” have made a great start to the season (4-1), having won four of their five games in the league, however Friday’s defeat against the Catalans was a wake-up call for coach Giannis Sfairopoulos and his players.
The Greek giants failed to remain competitive for 40 minutes and were decimated by the “Blaugrana” (73-51), who were coming from consecutive losses in all competitions.
This defeat didn’t affect Olympiacos in terms of their place in the standings, as they are still on top, along with Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow and Khimki.
Yet, the club should ensure such disappointing performances will not be repeated, given the difficult schedule they have in the Euroleague (Panathinaikos, Crvena Zvezda at home, Fenerbahce, Armani Milano and Valencia on the road).
On the other hand, Panathinaikos (2-3) have faced many ups and downs so far.
Despite beating Brose Baskets (93-83) and Fenerbahce (70-68) at home, they haven’t played at the same high standards on the road, having been destroyed by Barcelona (98-71) and CSKA Moscow (81-63), respectively.
Concurrently, and in spite of retaining control of the game for more than 30 minutes, the “Greens” saw Baskonia beat them at the “Fernando Buesa Arena” (85-84) on Thursday night, thanks to Rodrigue Beaubois’ lay-up with two seconds to go.
Consequently, coach Xavi Pascual is expecting from his players to step up and enhance their performance on Friday in order to beat the “Reds” and climb higher on the table (they currently are 12th).
That said, what are the key elements that will play a significant role on Friday’s match-up?
First and foremost, Olympiacos’ captain and leader, Vassilis Spanoulis, will again be unavailable to play, having suffered an injury that has sidelined him for almost 40 days.
The 35-year-old guard, who was set to make his debut in the season, is the “Reds” number one “weapon” offensively and his presence would differentiate their playing style.
Coach Sfairopoulos would try to exploit his player’s great scoring and passing ability in order to create more open shots and change the momentum, but he should now rely again on the rest of his roster to stand tall and make the difference.
Olympiacos are among the top clubs in the rebounds (36.2 per game, third in the respective category) and will do their best to grab as many as they can in order to run the floor and score in transition.
However, the three-time Euroleague champions should enhance key aspects of their game to retain their chances to be victorious.
More specifically, the team needs to have a better and quicker ball movement that will enable them to dish many assists; they currently are the worst team in the respective category, with just 13.6 per game.
To make matters worse, the squad has turned the ball over many times this season, averaging 13 per game (second in the respective category) .
For instance, they made 21 turnovers (for 11 assists) against Barcelona and let the Catalans score easy points and take control of the match.
Without a doubt, the assist/turnover ratio will be a crucial factor for both teams on Friday night and may determine the winner as well.
Panathinaikos, meanwhile, have to deal with many issues on both ends of the floor, with their overall performance being mediocre so far.
The “Greens” have failed to play consistently for a series of games, playing poorly both offensively and defensively.
On the one end of the floor, it seems there is no plan A or plan B for coach Pascual and his players, who execute most plays either through 1-on-1 situations or from beyond the arc (38% in total).
As a result, the six-time Euroleague champions are at the bottom of the assists category, with 14 per game. Concurrently, they make many turnovers, just like Olympiacos (12.6 per game).
Nick Calathes (14 points and 7.2 assists), Chris Singleton (10.6 points, seven rebounds, 47.4% from beyond the arc), K.C Rivers (10.4 points, 40% in three-pointers) and Nikos Pappas (14.8 points, 46.2% from range) are the leaders, however the supporting cast has been ineffective so far, making the squad’s playing style very predictable.
Coming from two straight losses (to Baskonia and AEK Athens, respectively), Panathinaikos have no other option but to beat their arch rivals, otherwise it will be no surprise if the administration makes changes to the active roster.
Moreover, Matt Lojeski, who is still struggling on both ends of the floor (averaging just 3.2 points in 18 minutes of action), will play in front of a sold-out crowd at Piece and Friendship Stadium for the first time since leaving the “Reds” to join the “Greens”.
Overall, although it’s still too early in the season, the match-up between the two Greek giants will steal the spotlight this week in the Euroleague, as it’s considered one of the most intense European derbies.
An exciting game is expected, therefore, with the winner climbing higher in the standings and boosting their confidence, whereas the losing side will also need to deal with the fans’ doubt and displeasure.