Euroleague Top 16, Week 2
Missing Bo, loving Batista.
by Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures
The Euroleague’s ridiculously long hiatus came to a close last week, and these previews took an additional six days off. Why wait any longer?
“Last” week’s record: 10-2. Overall: 62-33.
Caja Laboral (1-0) vs. Lietuvos Rytas (0-1)
Mirza Teletovic’s Nikes had forgotten what the paint felt like. Marcus Haislip was dealing with injuries and an inability to rebound. And Stanko Barac? Arguably outperforming current Spur and former Caja Laboralian Tiago Splitter; but what’s that worth if it’s a solo show down low? Next to nothing. So it was time to put Stanko next to something. The something they scooped up looks a lot like Uruguayan big man Esteban Batista, former Atlanta Hawk and second-leading rebounder in the ACB. Initial returns are encouraging: 10 points and 14 boards in last week’s road win over Spanish rival Unicaja. Lietuvos Rytas has a slew of big men Caja could appreciate, yet Aleksander Trifunovic refuses to play the lottery-bound Jonas Valanciunas in important stretches despite his incredible efficiency (second in the EL in per-minute rebounds, 74 percent from the field) and willingness to play within the system. Last week Lietuvos Rytas was outworked at home. This time they’ll be outclassed on the road. Caja Laboral.
Panathinaikos (1-0) vs. Unicaja (0-1)
For a 6-9 Greek All-Star, Kostas Kaimakoglou did a hell of a job blending in for the season’s first eight weeks. Stuck in Zeljko Obradovic’s strategically whimsical rotation after a brilliant season with Maroussi, Kostas danced just north of DNP territory on a handful of nights. Then after a couple warm-ups in weeks 9 and 10, the 27-year-old jumped into a 31-minute stint and came to the surface with 16 points and 9 rebounds in hand. And while it’s tough to make worthwhile observations in a 21-point blowout, Panthinaikos’ 59-80 road win over Lietuvos Rytas told me one thing: last year’s Top 16 debacle is a lifeless memory. Unicaja’s Gerald Fitch signing might earn them a win or two down the road, but one-on-one scorers have typically left OAKA Arena bemused and dejected. Panathinaikos.
Maccabi Electra (0-1) vs. Lottomatica Roma (0-1)
Ali Traore was awful the first part of the regular season. Then he was adequate. Followed by another bout with awful. Yet Lottomatica advanced, and nobody outside of Roma was anxious to watch their rendition of basketball any longer. And while I did my best to open my lids only for Union Olimpija’s possessions, I accidentally paid attention long enough for Ali & Co. to blow the one shot they had at a Top 16 victory. Maccabi on the other hand is hoping for some peculiar symmetry; their regular season started with a loss against Spanish champion Caja Laboral. They shook it off and won the remaining nine to finish with the EL’s best record. Their Top 16 stumbled into a similar rut, a loss to EL champs Barcelona. The next five are within reach, and none easier than this one. Maccabi Electra.
Union Olimpija (1-0) vs. Regal FC Barcelona (1-0)
Solid veteran presences like Goran Jagodnik, Kenny Gregory and Kevinn Pinkney. A passionate coach with Slovenia’s national stamp of approval. A brand new arena which sold 32,000 Top 16 tickets in 20 minutes. There it is, folks. The classic blueprint to your financially writhing franchise. Who’d have thunk it? Not I, nor any honest man. Here they sit, poised to knock off Barcelona before their championship armor re-fortifies in time for the playoffs. Union Olimpija.
Partizan (0-1) vs. Efes Pilsen (1-0)
Nathan Jawai has the charming girth, James Gist the passion which has endeared himself to Pionir goers, and Jan Vesely is the young Czech whose chin owns a timeshare just north of the rim. Partizan has quality depth on the inside, sure, but even coinciding outbursts among these three haven’t always been enough to earn wins against superior teams. Efes Pilsen falls in that ‘superior’ category, but winning on the road has proved impossible so far in the EL. Five wins in Istanbul, five losses when they’re away. With experienced contributors like Igor Rakocevic and Kerem Tunceri controlling things up top, things are bound to turn around. I’m breaking my own rule here. Efes Pilsen.
Montepaschi Siena (1-0) vs. Real Madrid (1-0)
Montepaschi is a different animal without Bo McCalebb. A slower, more toothless animal. Nikos Zisis is a steady-handed leader and Rimantas Kaukenas is every bit as wise as that little Chinese character tattooed on his right shoulder. But they’re not Bo. Some might argue that Bo isn’t a ‘pure’ point guard. If ‘pure’ means overly selfless, pass happy facilitator, then you’re entitled to that interpretation. But by my count, the purest point guard makes plays — positive plays — for his team on both ends of the floor. Nobody in Europe does that quite like Bo. Real Madrid is lucky to come across them while they’re headless. Real Madrid.
Zalgiris Kaunas (0-1) vs. Olympiacos (0-1)
In the Green Corner, we have Zalgiris Coach Ilias Zouros. A man whose job is an easy one, really: learn your team’s personnel forwards and backwards in a mere week with the knowledge that your volatile new boss has dismissed your predecessors in back-to-back months. In the Red Corner, we have Coach Dusan Ivkovic. The living legend who ushered in Yugoslavia’s golden generation of stars like Toni Kukoc, Valde Divac, and the incomparable Drazen Petrovic. Advantage: stability. Olympiacos.
Fenerbahçe Ülker (1-0) vs. Valencia (1-0)
Marko Tomas has a bad habit of letting others forget he’s there. Perfectly content to defer, he’ll Rip Hamilton his way around the court without even gesturing for the ball, just orbiting for the sake of movement. Every now and then, he likes reminding us all that he possesses a broader array of skills than almost anyone on the continent. Last week, he had his brightest day since donning Cibona blue, and I savored all 19 points of it. Fenerbahçe Ülker.