Euroleague Weekly Preview
Can the mighty mighty Barcelones KO the champs?
by Nick Gibson
Back-to-back 7-1 weeks have jumper-cabled my hopes for 100 wins before the playoffs (currently 95-37 for the season with three weeks left), but what hurts is those two losses both came at the hands of my nemesis, Maroussi. Will they foil me again?
Partizan (2-1) vs. Maroussi BC (2-1) – Teams that win ugly tend to lose even uglier. Case in point: Partizan Belgrade. After scrapping out the victory of the season against Barcelona, they went to Greece and couldn’t throw it in the Aegean Sea, going 18-61 from the field (29 percent). The 57 measly points Maroussi used to win were the lowest of any winning Euroleague team this season. A lightshow, it was not. But, good news out of Belgrade as Aleks Maric—the would-be index rating leader if he had enough games to qualify—will be back in action after the week off, which should take significant pressure off of guards Aleksander Rasic, Bo McCalebb and even Petar Bozic, who has been shooting far more than he should have to. Anyone who reads regularly (thanks, you two) should know my faith in Maroussi gets thinner each week, even as the wins add up. Partizan.
Panathinaikos (0-3) vs. Regal Barcelona (2-1) – Though The Mighty Mighty Barcelones have shown their weaknesses in the past few weeks in both the Euroleague and the ACB, they’ve rebounded nicely to capture the Copa del Rey (a huge deal in Spain). Panathinaikos would kill for Barca’s kind of problems; after losing two of their first 10 to qualify for the Top 16 they’ve stumbled into the Top 16 looking at first lazy, then bored, and finally panicked. Although nobody has sparkled in recent weeks, I see Vassilis Spanoulis as the problem. With Diamantidis growing older and increasingly contact averse, Spanoulis is the guy who needs to knife inside and open things up for others, if not finish for himself. There’s a reason he was last year’s Final Four MVP, and it certainly had nothing to do with the 5.3 average ranking he’s rocking through the Top 16. Barcelona.
Efes Pilsen (1-2) vs. Maccabi Electra (2-1) – Thirteen weeks in, I feel like I’ve previewed at last eight different Efes Pilsen teams. I’m done guessing “why” they’ll win, and I’ll instead focus purely on the “if.” So, they will win this week. Why? Hit me back Wednesday night. Efes Pilsen.
Real Madrid (1-2) vs. Montepaschi (2-1) – Although I’ve never quite bought into the Ettore Messina hype (CSKA isn’t exactly reeling without him this year, are they?), I do think that given an extra week on the whiteboard, he’ll draw something up that works. And while this year’s Montepaschi core is a near carbon copy of last year’s (minus Rimantas Kaukenas, who’ll be playing for Madrid in this one), their consistent team defense has turned to more isolation, less help, and can usually be neutralized by a ball fake or an extra pass. If the chuckers on Madrid can steady their trigger fingers and play nice with their teammates, they’ll draw even at .500. Real Madrid.
Zalgiris (0-3) vs. Unicaja (1-2) – While Juan Dixon waits for his nandrolone episode to die down (a.k.a. the Rashard Lewis “drug”), Unicaja will again be down one American guard. Omar Cook’s numbers typically go sky-high when these sorts of things happen, but Unicaja’s performance heads in the opposite direction. This should be pleasant news for Zalgiris, whose backcourt is slightly deeper, yet lacking fluidity ever since Aleksander Capin joined the roster. The Lithuanians haven’t been able to break 68 points in three Top 16 match-ups, and luckily Unicaja routinely lets teams score 80 (5 times in 13 games, not great for Eurostandards). Zalgiris shall not go winless. Zalgiris.
Asseco Prokom (2-1) vs. CSKA Moscow (3-0) – CSKA Moscow has been the most quietly complete team all season. Injuries, roster swaps, they’ve taken it all in stride to win ten straight. If Siskauskas isn’t hitting, Langdon steps up. If Holden is hurt, Planinic can fill in up top. When the big boys were hobbled, Sasha Kaun proved he was ready to be a factor. And Viktor Khryapa, well…Viktor Khryapa’s just the man. I started this paragraph with an Asseco Prokom win in mind, but I’ve typed myself out of it. CSKA Moscow.
Cibona (0-3) vs Olympiacos (3-0) – When this same game took place two weeks ago in Piraeus, Olympiacos won a 78-75 squeaker which was close mostly because of the polite defense applied to Marko Tomas (23 points) and Jamont Gordon (20). If Panagiotis Giannakis wants to impress me, he’ll start giving Scoonie Penn’s minutes to next year’s Miami Heat starting point guard, Patrick Beverley, who understands on-ball defense shouldn’t be saved for special occasions. Olympiacos.
BC Khimki (2-1) vs. Caja Laboral (1-2) – If all goes as planned and Olympiacos defeats Cibona, this becomes a make or break game for Caja Laboral. A loss in Russia would eliminate them from playoff contention (and make the “Group H” portion of my weekly previews pretty bland the next couple of weeks). Scarier still is the fact that Tiago Splitter—only a couple weeks removed from an ankle injury—will be in street clothes after re-aggravating it during the Copa del Rey. A positive for Caja in Splitter’s absence has been the awakening of Lior Eliyahu whose average index rating of 10 in his first 10 games has jumped up to 23.5 in the last two games, scoring 39 in that span. It’ll be on Eliyahu, Teletovic and Marcelinho Huertas if Caja wants to extend their five-year playoff streak. BC Khimki.
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 email@example.com.