Up against a negative record

Olympiakos will need to sweeten a sour record at home against Turkey’s Efes Pilsen tonight if the Piraeus team is to keep in touch with the Euroleague’s Group A front-runner Tau Ceramica, one game ahead. The Greek team has lost its last three home encounters against Efes Pilsen. Top spot in the group would give the Piraeus team an advantage in the draw for the competition’s next stage, reserved for the top five-placed clubs from the competition’s three eight-team groups and the sixth-placed side with the best record. For the visiting Turkish club, victory tonight would secure its place in the next round of 16. Efes Pilsen would also be guaranteed a place if Le Mans, currently sixth, loses to third-placed Dynamo Moscow. Three rounds of first-stage group play remain. Olympiakos goes into the game having just imposed a sizable penalty of an undisclosed amount on negligent 21-year-old star Sophocles Schortsanitis. He has fallen out of favor with coach Pinhas Gershon for being overweight, and made matters worse last Friday by being spotted out late at night. Schortsanitis was summoned to a club meeting yesterday where he was handed a fine reportedly worth 50,000 euros, the biggest ever in Greek basketball. The player, an NBA hopeful and key to Greece’s silver medal at last summer’s Worlds, was also warned to trim down drastically or go. Panathinaikos – undefeated in the Euroleague’s first stage of group play with an 11-0 record, the basketball competition’s second-longest winning streak of the past decade – will be hosted by Spanish champion Unicaja tonight, the only team that managed to beat the Athens club – both home and away – in last season’s first phase. The Greek team, a three-time European champion with all titles earned since 1996, has already secured Group B’s top spot and its place in the competition’s next stage with three rounds of opening-phase play remaining. «As we come close to the end of the regular season, our goal is to combine winning and good basketball,» said Panathinaikos coach Zelimir Obradovic. Tonight’s game will be a high-pressure affair for the Spanish team, which has struggled in this season’s Euroleague. Unicaja has lost three of its last four games for a 4-7 record that has embroiled it in a three-way battle for Group B’s fifth place, currently shared with Lottomatica Roma and Partizan. Cibona lies fourth, one game ahead, and Union Olimpija occupies last spot, one game behind the locked trio.

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