Key day in basketball league

The regular season of the basketball league is just two rounds from completion, with the penultimate one taking place tonight. With Panathinaikos having already mathematically clinched the top spot, which assures the champion home advantage in the playoffs for the rest of the season, interest is focusing on the fight for second place and avoiding relegation. Aris and Olympiakos are tied in second, with the Thessaloniki team enjoying a better head-to-head record. Aris is hosting Panellinios tonight, facing an opponent that has done well to reach the sixth spot in the table so far, and still aspires for a top-four finish. Olympiakos has a much easier task at home against lowly Aegaleo, but given last Saturday’s home defeat to Panionios and the jeering at Israeli coach Pini Gershon by fans, Olympiakos is far from guaranteed victory. In the day’s most crucial game for both teams, AEK is hosting PAOK behind closed doors at the Olympic sports center in Athens, following a turbulent few days for both teams. AEK has suffered from internal unrest involving a member of the coaching team and player Yiannis Gagaloudis, but tonight it is desperate for a win that will ensure it avoids relegation. PAOK players, on the other hand, abstained from training on Monday after their salary failed to be paid on time, but still need the win to ensure they maintain the fourth spot from rivals Panionios and Panellinios. After its surprising 81-79 win in Piraeus against Olympiakos on Saturday, Panionios has increased its chances of finishing fourth. Tonight it plays Maroussi in Nea Smyrni and is the favorite for another win against a side that has only won twice on the road. Leader Panathinaikos travels to already-relegated Makedonikos, while Olympia hosts Apollon Patras, which needs two wins in the two remaining matches to have any hope of staying up. It will need a favor from local rival Olympiada, which entertains Larissa in Patras. Larissa is a point above the drop zone and a win will ensure it will maintain its A1 status for another season. Although the season is far from over, with the playoffs beckoning, many teams have already started planning for the next one. Olympiakos, still uncertain about the coach to lead the team into the 2007-2008 season, is eyeing Lithuanian NBA star Sarunas Jasikevicius, the Golden State Warriors playmaker, while CSKA Moscow and Barcelona are reportedly interested in Panathinaikos center Mike Batiste.

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