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Fabio Anderle's Euro League Round-up

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esteban_batista_maccabi-opt.jpgThe first surprise in week 1 of the 50th edition of the Euroleague came from Pionir Arena in Beograd, Serbia, where host team Partizan defeated Spanish powerhouse Barcelona 81-78 in the opener. 21 years old big man Nikola Peković manhandled the "blau-grana" defense at will scoring 29 points, missing just one of his 14 shots, grabbing 8 rebounds and practically dominating Orlando’s first 2007 draft pick Fran Vazquez.

"A star is born", titled a Serbian newspaper, but we will see if Pekovic can keep up this pace in the next games. Former Celtic Milt Palacio added 13 points (on 4 for 13 shooting) to the Partizan’s cause, and two of them were the free throws to ice the game. Estéban Batista (pictured) left the Celtics because he wanted to play, but his debut with Maccabi Tel Aviv wasn’t as good as he had probably planned.

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Batista was on the floor for just 41" (yes, less than a minute) in Tel Aviv’s 74-71 tough win over french team Le Mans. After trailing for most of the game, the Israeli champions fought back thanks to the eroics of center Nikola Vujcic, the man who’ll probably keep Batista out of Tel Aviv’s starting five. As promised, note the first picture of Estéban with the Maccabi’s yellow and blue colours.  Greek Aris Thessaloniki used Orlando 2007 second round draft pick Reyshawn Terry’s energy to upend Unicaja Málaga with a score of 87-83. Unicaja held its last lead early in the fourth quarter and managed to tie the game 70-70 with 5 minutes left, but Terry and Jerry Massey scored all the points in an 8-3 run that put Aris in control down the stretch. Jiri Welsch was back to action for Unicaja after the injury, and scored 7 losing effort points (1 for 4 shooting, 4 assists and 4 turnovers). Lottomatica Rome wasn’t able to preserve a 5 points lead with four minutes to go in regulation, and Sarunas Jasikevicius scored 7 consecutive points to lead Panathinaikos to a 86-83 win. Allan Ray scored 8 points on 4 for 7 shooting, but the game MVP, although in a losing effort, was Jon Stefansson (25 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals). Demos Dikoudis, the greek center who rumors said to be in Chris Wallace’s sight for a Celtics roster spot in 2002, scored 1 point in 6 minutes of play. Polish champion Prokom Sopot couldn’t handle powerhouse CSKA Moscow for more than a quarter. In the second stanza CSKA used a 32-16 run to pull away for good thanks to sharpshooters Nikos Zisis (17 points, 2 for 2 form three point range) and Matjaž Smodiš (18 points, 2 for 4 from the arc). Greek guard Theo Papaloukas had 8 points and 8 assists in the 88-69 blowout, while former Celtic Ruben Wolkowyski scored 3 points (1 for 2 from the distance) but didn’t snatch any rebound in 15 minutes of play.


"ACB" – SPAIN
There are no undefeated teams in the Spanish league after the games of week 5: Akasvayu Girona (4-1) was upended at home by AXA Barcelona (4-1) 85-89, while DKV Joventut Badalona (4-1) was demolished at home by Iurbentia Bilbao (3-2) in the "upset of the week". The basque team exploited the absence of catalan shooter Rudy Fernández, but the final score of 81-58 shows quite eloquently that Iurbentia is a force to be reckoned with. Brasilian guard Marcelo Huertas, facing his former team, was a key factor in the Bilbao win scoring 25 points. Jerome Moiso scored 5 points and grabbed 9 boards for Joventut in a losing effort. C.B. Granada (4-1) handed Unicaja Málaga another defeat: Italian guard Andrea Pecile was the top scorer in the 80-69 win at the Palacio Municipal of Granada. For the losing side, Jiri Welsch scored 11 points (on 5 for 9 shooting) and snatched 5 rebounds. Albert Miralles (whose rights were sent from Miami to the Boston Celtics in the Antoine Walker trade) was the MVP in the Pamesa Valencia (3-2) 79-72 away win over Estudiantes Madrid (1-4) in a game where he scored 24 points (8 for 9 shooting) and collected 6 boards. Shammond Williams scored 7 points on 3 for 4 shooting in the important win.

"LEGA A" – ITALY

Montepaschi Siena (7 won -0 lost) keeps crushing its Italian league’s opponents: this week’s victim was Legea Scafati (2-5), which gently bowed 97-78 to the mighty tuscanians, led by Lithuanian sharpshooter Rimantas Kaukenas (21 points, 6 for 7 shooting, 7 for 7 from the charity stripe). Angelico Biella (5-2) is one of the hottest teams in "Lega A" thanks to the conspicuous and consistent contribution of the ex-Celtic couple Kevinn Pinkney-Brandon Hunter. Pinkney scored 22 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, Hunter added 9 points and 14 boards as Biella cruised to a 81-65 win over Cimberio Varese (2-5). Lottomatica Rome (4-3), probably still weary after the hard fought battle in Greece, was surprised at home by Solsonica Rieti (4-3) 76-86. Lottomatica’s Allan Ray (8 points) shot an awful 2 for 8 and turned the ball over 5 times, while former Raptor Pape Sow had 18 points and 14 rebounds for Rieti. Jamel Thomas’ 13 points (1 for 7 from the field, 3 for 5 from three point range) weren’t enough for Eldo Napoli (1-6) to prevent a home defeat in overtime and the last place in the standings. Premiata Montegranaro (4-3) could rely on Ricky Minard’s 30 points (11 for 15 shooting) and 8 rebounds to pull the 101-95 away win.

ADRIATIC LEAGUE – FORMER YUGOSLAVIA
As often happens, after the big win to start the Euroleague on the right foot, Partizan Beograd (6-1) was a little too relaxed when it faced dangerous Hemofarm Slada Vrsać. That’s why the Serbians flew off the gates in a 21-8 first quarter, and forced the leaders of the Adriatic League to a tiring comeback. Milt Palacio, though, wouldn’t let Hemofarm win, and Partizan sent the game to overtime, eventually pulling out the win, 79-76. Palacio’s 19 points (5 for 14 from the field, 3 for 5 from the arc) and 6 assists were the top of the game in both categories. Partizan didn’t manage to shake off the other Adriatic League leader, city rival Črvena Zvezda Beograd (6-1). The "Red Star" defeated KK Split 86-79 thanks to a strong game by forward Tadija Dragicevic (28 points) and Omar Cook, who capped a terrific shooting performance (2 for 2 from the court, 5 for 8 from three point range for 21 total points) with 7 assists. For KK Split (3-4), Marlon Garnett (21 points on 8 for 16 shooting) was sharp as usual. "Midsummer night’s Celtic dream" Josip Sesar shot 1 for 5 as KK Zagreb suffered its fourth loss in seven games at the hands of Zadar.

"SUPERLEAGUE" – RUSSIA
Four undefeated teams keep leading the Russian league after six weeks of play. Between them, the clear favourite CSKA Moscow had to fight hard to keep its record clean when hosting team Ural Perm forced them to battle for the whole 40’ of play. In the end, the Russian champions managed to upend Ural 75-69, but 6 points for CSKA was the closest final margin of the season. Spartak Primorie Vladivostok signed center Joseph Blair, but the new acquisition wasn’t enough to keep the boat afloat: Khimki Moscow literally ran over J.R. Bremer and Co., even if the ex-Celtic managed to score 13 points (but shot an awful 4 for 12 from the field) and to dish out 8 assists. After a slow start, Unics Kazan (4-2) seems to be getting better as testified by two away wins in just three days. Coach Sireika’s troop first slaughtered Ural Perm 90-69, and then manhandled University Ugra Surgut 91-67. Joe Forte played just 4 minutes in the first game (0 for 1 from the field), but found more room in the second game, scoring 11 points (2 for 5 from three point range) and dishing out 5 assists.

PLK – POLAND
Prokom Sopot (3 won - 0 lost) found out once again that PLK is easier than Euroleague. Led by Lithuanian national Donatas Slanina (18 points, 5 assists), the polish champions clobbered Asco Slask Wroclaw 86-51. Travis Best added 6 points, greek guard Christos Harissis 12 and 5 assists, and former Celtic Ruben Wolkowyski scored 7 points and grabbed 3 rebounds in 15 minutes of play.