Euroleague Weekly Preview
Five games decide two playoff berths. Come and get ‘em.
by Nick Gibson
A couple years ago, the NFL implemented flexible television schedules; no longer would we fans have to stand idly by as the Bills and Raiders duke it out for that coveted fourth win in Week 17. The Euroleague has come up with its own way of making the games interesting. Coming into this, the final week of the Top 16, three of eight games meant nothing to the playoff picture: CSKA vs. Zalgiris, Siena vs. Efes, and Prokom vs. Unicaja. One of those games was featured yesterday and as expected, CSKA won 84-71 to hold onto the Group G crown (which they locked up last week). The other seven—including the five that matter—will all be played today as part of the imbalanced schedule, so while this preview technically covers only 87.5 percent of the week’s action, it’s pretty much all you need to care about. Unless you’re a Raiders fan.
Regal Barcelona (4-1) vs. Partizan (3-2) – Partizan has the most to lose and gain this week. A second win over Barcelona and they’ll have the top spot in Group E. A loss and a Panathinaikos win gets them second place, but a loss and a Maroussi win leaves them out of the playoffs. It took home soil, a 15-minute video review, and Jan Vesely playing like Dennis Rodman to pull it off last time. It won’t happen again, but will Partizan get the help they need? Scroll down to find out. Barcelona.
Panathinaikos (1-4) vs. Maroussi (2-3) – Ever since Panathinaikos was prematurely eliminated from the playoffs, they’ve been playing with a big, pissed-off chip on their shoulder. They improved to 18-1 in the Greek League with wins over Olympiacos and PAOK and handed Partizan their biggest home loss of the season with a 66-82 thrashing without Nikola Pekovic. But then there’s the injury report: Vassilis Spanoulis (tendonitis), Dimitris Diamantidis (groin), Pekovic (leg), and Kostas Tsartsaris is still out with a broken hand. Could these guys go if a playoff spot were on the line? With the exception of Tsartsaris, probably so. Maybe I just don’t get it, but I can’t see Maroussi, a team that has failed to score 60 in two of their last three EL games, beating the Greens twice on the same court in one season. I expect a monster effort from Mike Batiste and a refreshingly solid output from Nick Calathes who’s in line for some big minutes. Maybe Milenko Tepic will even wake up from his season-long slumber. Panathinaikos.
Montepaschi Siena (2-3) vs. Efes Pilsen (2-3) – It really is a shame these two are out of the running already while lesser teams are still hopeful once Thursdays jumpballs go skyward. On second thought, these teams have only themselves to blame: Efes Pilsen could’ve done better than a No. 4 seed if they hadn’t looked so disoriented in the regular season; Montepaschi didn’t need to give up an all-time high 43 points in the fourth quarter to Maccabi and lose out on the tiebreaker. Most teams were granted larger margins for error than Siena, and it’s sad no Italians will be joining us in the next round. Poor guys get my vote. Montepaschi Siena.
Real Madrid (3-2) vs. Maccabi Electra (3-2) – Win, and you just might avoid Barcelona in the playoffs. Lose and you’re facing an uphill battle (good luck taking three out of five against Navarro, Mickael and Company). My heart says Maccabi, as they’ve been playing extremely well and steamrolling people lately. On the flip side, I still think Alan Anderson is defendable with the right personnel and a strong dose of weakside help. Madrid’s personnel—probably some combo of Velickovic and Kaukenas with help from the big guys—is not best suited against the stronger quicker types, but I believe they’re crafty enough to get it done. If Messina can figure out how to turn Anderson into a three-point specialist tonight (give him space, challenge him, challenge him some more) then Madrid gets the win and faces Partizan/Maroussi in the next round with homecourt. I’ll be at this game and can’t wait to see what unfolds. Or rather, who folds. Real Madrid.
CSKA Moscow (5-1) vs. Zalgiris (2-4) – I have a strange premonition that CSKA wins this one, 84-71.
Asseco Prokom (3-2) vs. Unicaja (1-4) – I’ve noticed my Unicaja previews tend to be the shortest these days. Last week: “Unicaja is a hot mess.” I wish I had more to say, but I’d probably just offend any of our Spanish readers. In short, no team has fallen as far since October, and if the season went two more months I still couldn’t see myself putting their name in bold. Asseco Prokom.
Before I start, let’s recap what has happened leading up to this: In the first matchup of Caja-Khimki, Caja lost at home 71-82. The next time around, Caja went on the road and won 83-94. With equal margins of victory/defeat (+/-11), the qualification scenario looks like this:
Olympiacos is qualified and group champ.
Caja Laboral will be second with a win and a Khimki loss to Olympiacos. Also second if it wins and Khimki beats Olympiacos by 7 points less than Caja’s winning margin. Is eliminated if it loses or if Khimki beats Reds by a marging 7 points or more bigger than Caja’s winning margin.
BC Khimki will be second if it beats Olympiacos and Caja Laboral loses to Cibona, or if it wins by a margin 7 points bigger than Caja’s winning margin. Will be eliminated with a win by a margin by 7 points less than Caja’s winning margin, or with a loss.
Cibona will be second with a win and an Olympiacos win over Khimki.
(courtesy of Euroleague.net)
To the picks…
BC Khimki (2-3) vs. Olympiacos (5-0) – I’m pretty sure my old Grady High School team could drop about 80 on Olympiacos in 40 minutes. Problem is, there wouldn’t be enough little red bulbs in our scoreboard to keep up with their 199+ point response. BC Khimki likes to put the ball in the bucket, and Keith Langford will get 25 for himself along with plenty of assistance from naturalized Russian Kelly McCarty. They’ll need a third, maybe even fourth scorer to step up if they’d like a chance at victory. Paulius Jankunas has been hit or miss (mostly miss) all season and Carlos Cabezas is genuinely worthless in the Top 16 (3.2 points against his 9.7 average in the regular season). A win in one of their last two (at Cibona, vs. Caja) and they could’ve sealed their own fate. This is what you get for not taking care of business. Olympiacos.
Caja Laboral (2-3) vs. Cibona (1-4) – No team has played harder than Cibona in the Top 16, and 20-year-old Bojan Bogdanovic’s MVP performance last week (22 points, 9 rebounds, 6-6 from 3) gave us a glimpse at Cibona’s future. ‘Tis a crying shame then that Bojan isn’t traveling with the team due to injury, otherwise Cibona might have a significant opportunity here. If Caja shows Taquan Dean some more love, I think he’d be an excellent choice to stop Tomas or Gordon, with the remaining duties falling on Carl English/Marcelinho Huertas. Unfortunately for Cibona, they won’t have a third scorer or a post player capable of exploiting Tiago Splitter’s absence inside. Should be fun, though. Caja Laboral.
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.