Euroleague Weekly Preview
Roko to the rescue?
With five spots open for conquest, 10 teams still have a playoff pulse. Four teams simply need a victory to advance while the other six need a dash of luck or a miniature miracle. After a 10-2 Week 9, the season standings have me at 68-28. Let’s see how I fare with 12 of the year’s most important games…
Cibona (2-7) vs. Asvel Basket (3-6) – When these two met in Week 5, Asvel was winless. Down by 15 heading into the 4th, and with just over a minute left, it appeared they would go home empty handed once more. But Bobby Dixon was a little too fast, Ali Traore a little too strong, Kristjan Kangur a little too clutch and Asvel left with a win thanks to a Benjamin Dewar game winner with six seconds on the clock. The game proved pivotal for both teams as Cibona lost their next two contests and Asvel won theirs, giving them a legitimate shot at the Top 16 if they can win this week in the Drazen Petrovic Center. Asvel Basket.
Fenerbahce Ulker (3-6) vs. Zalgiris (2-7) – Coming off of four straight losses—including last week’s 101-58 embarrassment in Siena—Fenerbahce still controls its Top 16 destiny if they can just win. Zalgiris needs a 7-point triumph and a Cibona loss to ensure their advancement, but it will be a near impossible task with league leading rebounder and team leader Travis Watson sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks. (No news yet as to whether team President Arvydas Sabonis will suit up and hoop.) Zalgiris will receive some help from recent addition Aleksander Capin, who will split PG duties with Mantas Kalnietis. Not to be outdone, Fenerbahce plucked Roko Ukic from the Milwaukee Bucks in hopes that he could stop the bleeding in Istanbul. I reckon he will. Fenerbahce Ulker.
*Regal Barcelona (9-0) vs. *Montepaschi (8-1) –Jim Caldwell does not coach Barcelona and Ricky Rubio is not Curtis Painter. Perfection intact. Barcelona.
Entente Orleanaise (2-7) vs. Efes Pilsen (3-6) – Orleans turned laughability into mediocrity with two straight wins on the shoulders of Cedric Banks (Illinois University-Chicago) and Justin Doellman (Xavier), but they don’t have what it takes this week against Efes. The Turkish squad lost a heartbreaker in OT against Olympiacos last week and would’ve won if it weren’t the shoddy play of Bostjan Nachbar (9 minutes, 2 points) and Igor Rakocevic (13 minutes…also 2 points). Win or lose, Coach Ergin Ataman’s days may be numbered. Efes Pilsen.
Lietuvos Rytas (4-5) vs. *Unicaja (6-3) – It’s tough to find a groove when your team uses 17 different players in 9 games. Just look at Europe’s version of the Trailblazers, Unicaja Malaga. A 5-0 start followed by a 1-3 run that concluded last week in a 72-88 loss at home against Orleans. Gross. Rytas, on the other hand, is coming off a 97-67 shellacking in Belgrade and opponents have pretty much figured out that Popovic+Gecevicius=Rytas’ offense. Both of those fellas will play 40 minutes if they have to and they’ll limp into the Top 16 with the strength of a rowdy Lithuanian crowd behind them. Lietuvos Rytas.
*Olympiacos (7-2) vs. *Partizan (5-4) – Devastating news out of Belgrade as unofficial Thus-Far-MVP Aleks Maric will be out a month with a sprained knee. Last week, 7’6” Slavko Vranes filled in admirably with 13 points, 9 boards and 4 blocks while former SEC Player of the Year Lawrence Roberts had his best game of the season with 16 and 7. With first place already clinched, Olympiacos can afford to lose this one, but that doesn’t mean they will. Olympiacos.
*CSKA Moscow (7-2) vs. *Caja Laboral (7-2) – The battle for second place should be a good one as CSKA has now won its last six and Caja is back at full strength. Nobody was happier to see PG Marcellinho Huertas back in the lineup than Tiago Splitter, whose index rating goes from 11.5 to 22.2 with a healthy Huertas on the floor. Courtney Sims’ brief (1 week) stint with CSKA is over as Moscow signed Pops Mensah-Bonsu to bolster their frontline. He won’t be active this week, but he’ll like what he sees. CSKA Moscow
Lottomatica Roma (3-6) vs. Union Olimpija (2-7) – In the land of wild, incentive-laced deals, hometown hero and starting guard Sani Becrovic was relieved of his job this past week because Union Olimpija will not be playing into the round of 16. This is great news for Roma who watched Becirovic torch them for 24 in their last meeting, a 17-point defeat. Losers of six straight in the EL, Roma is coming off a 101-point Italian League victory against Martos Napoli (a team that you and I might be able to start for if we got our passports in order), so they should be feeling big and bad coming into this crucial contest. They need to win to have a chance at the Top 16 and while they’re entirely undeserving, I’m afraid they’ll get to keep playing basketball. Roma.
Maroussi BC (4-5) vs. *Maccabi Electra (6-3) – Maccabi’s honeymoon with Maciej Lampe is over after only nine games, but the news is not all bad; D’Or Fischer and Stephane Lasme should finally have some room to breathe in the Tel Aviv paint. As for Maroussi, I owe you an apology. Not once all year have I picked you to win, and four times you’ve made a fool out of me. With a Top 16 bid on the line, I defy you to prove me wrong again. Maccabi Electra.
Asseco Prokom (3-6) vs. *BC Khimki (6-3) – Thank the good, Polish Lord for sending down big man Ratko Varda. His spirited play and wide body had been missing from Prokom all season long, and the way he banged his way through the Panathinaikos frontline last week showed me that Prokom belongs in the next round. Asseco Prokom.
Armani Jeans Milano (3-6) vs. *Real Madrid (7-2) – Last week, an ill-advised haircut doomed Morris Finley to his worst individual output of the season. Now, the team’s leader in minutes, points, assists, and steals will miss the next two months with a strained right calf muscle. The former UAB Blazer joins Alex Acker on the injured list, meaning that both starters will miss Milan’s make-or-break game this week against Marko Jaric’s Real Madrid club. Truly a shame too, as the Denim Dozen always put on a show. Real Madrid.
EWE Baskets (1-8) vs. *Panathinaikos (7-2) – If they ever come out with Euroleague Street, I’ll be first in line to grab a controller and try out the Jason Gardner, Rickey Paulding, Je’Kel Foster trio. In real basketball, on the other hand, EWE leaves some things to be desired; most notably a true center, some defensive intensity and a general sense of “team”. Panathinaikos.
Nick Gibson is the co-creator and producer of Slam and Freaknick’s Euroleague Adventures, which features a blog, podcast, prospect watch and a closer look at Americans playing overseas. Gibson is a broadcast journalism student at Syracuse University and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.