Panathinaikos needs to rebound

Following two unanticipated losses, both away, from two games in the Euroleague’s second round of group play reserved for 16 teams, Panathinaikos has no choice but to rebound tonight when it hosts Turkish team Efes Pilsen. Defeat would most likely prove disastrous for the ambitious Athens club’s hopes for a Final Four berth. Panathinaikos, one of the favorites for the European title, lies last in Group G. Cibona Zagreb leads with two wins from two games, while Efes Pilsen and Benetton Treviso share second place with a 1-1 record. The competition’s 16 survivors, equally divided into four groups, are all vying for the top two spots in their respective groups that lead to cross-group quarterfinal playoffs for berths at this season’s Final Four tournament to be held in Prague between April 28 and 30. We cannot afford anything but victory,» said Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic, a winner of five Euroleague titles with four different clubs, including Panathinaikos. «This is like a final for us. In all truth, we’ve got to play lots of finals in March. We lost the first two battles in the competition’s round of last 16 but must carry on. We’re up against a high-quality team with lots of good players and depth on the bench,» concluded the Serb coach. Vlado Skepanovic, who starred in Panathinaikos’s recent league victory against Aris, contended that, despite the two losses, against Cibona Zagreb and Benetton Treviso, the Athens club remained the master of its own destiny. «We lost our first two games in the Euroleague’s second phase of group competition, which shows that we lost our momentum at an entirely inappropriate time,» noted Skepanovic. «However, we believe in our team and I think that if we’re going to reach the competition’s next stage it depends on us,» he added. Skepanovic said that, at this stage, despite his club’s poor opening, the results of fellow-group rivals meant little to him. «We’re not waiting for the results of others, only victories for us, so we can take part in the Euroleague’s Final Four. The negative record of two losses can be converted to a 2-2 record. So, panic isn’t necessary. The situation will improve and I think we’ll advance to the next stage,» predicted Skepanovic. Efes Pilsen, tonight’s opponent, had troubled Panathinaikos in its bid to qualify for last season’s Final Four in Moscow. Also desperate for victory, the Turkish team lost its previous encounter, at home against Cibona. Efes Pilsen coach Oktay Mahmouti said tonight’s game comes during a demanding period for his club. «It’s a tough away match for us that comes during a difficult period for the team. We’re going to try and rely on our style of play, as we always do, and will be seeking victory,» said Mahmouti. In the group’s other game, Cibona hosts Treviso. Greece’s other Euroleague representative, Olympiakos, heads Group D, undefeated with two wins.