Euroleague Top 16, Week 5
Dimitris Diamantidis tries to keep pace with Flubber.
by Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures
This week finds the Euroleague in critical condition after suffering a litany of injuries. Ioannis Bourousis and Victor Claver are the latest stars to drape their broken bones in plaster while several others are questionable, their teams’ playoff hopes resting on various twisted ankles and torn ligaments. But the most disheartening news comes from Barcelona, where Pete Mickeal — he who tamed Kobe’s pre-season Lakers with a near triple double — will miss the rest of the season with a lung condition known as pulmonary embolism. It’s a very unfortunate setback for a 33-year-old who was leading the EL champs in both rebounding and scoring before knee surgery sidelined him in the regular season. ELA hopes to see him back triple doubling in no time.
I can’t afford another 5-3 week if I want to improve the 73-38 clip. Let’s do better, shall we?
Panathinaikos (3-1) vs. Lietuvos Rytas (2-2)
As if forged by Robin Williams himself, Khalid El-Amin’s pudge n’ quicks combo turns Flubber greener with envy; although this week the former UConner will try and take down the Greens in their own backyard. Dimitris Diamantidis might scoop up this year’s MVP, but even this defensive mastermind will have fits trying to stick with the former Husky for 35 minutes of high ball screens set by an endless supply of large bodies from the lithe, wiry Jonas Valanciunas, to the balding bowling ball that is Kenan Bajramovic. Aleksander Trifunovic has unlocked the secrets to his personnel’s potential and now finds himself a win away from the playoffs, even if it’s not this week. It’s a hell of a spot for a guy who started the season 0-4. It won’t happen in OAKA, however, where the crowd trades raucous, unrestrained fanaticism for one of the world’s scariest homecourt advantages. Panathinaikos.
Caja Laboral (2-2) vs. Unicaja (1-3)
Gerald Fitch was a dud last week. Terrell McIntyre not much different. Of course, Joel Freeland balled: 19 and 8. That’s to be expected. What’s not to be expected is Unicaja’ success without reliable performances from the periphery. And let the record show I’m choosing to forget Berni Rodriguez’s 12 points on account of his missed fastbreak lay-up in crunch time. Sorry, Berni. Caja Laboral.
Union Olimpija (1-3) vs. Lottomatica Roma (0-4)
Dusan Ivkovic has wrung the world dry of coaching achievements. Ettore Messina and Zeljko Obradovic are a cut above, yet still very much in their primes. But give me an empty roster and the keys to a franchise and I’d put Union Olimpija’s Jure Zdovc in the driver’s seat. The loyalty he’s shown his players and the way he’s led them through a season of tumult and speculative whispers is a feat deserving of Alexander Gomelskiy’s trophy. One more win for the home fans would be a nice way to bow out. Union Olimpija.
*Maccabi Electra (3-1) vs. *Regal FC Barcelona (4-0)
Before falling over ourselves to analyze this clash of potential champions, it bears mentioning that this game is a mere formality; both have clinched a spot in the playoffs. But aside from the No. 1 seed that Maccabi could secure with a win by 11 or more, David Blatt’s bunch needs to know that they can play with — and beat — Europe’s best. That assurance could prove useful come May. Maccabi Electra.
Montepaschi Siena (2-2) vs. Efes Pilsen (2-2)
Igor Rakocevic has bumped his Top 16 scoring up to 19 from 16 in the regular season, so he’s clearly not the problem. Bootsy Thornton has picked it up, Kerem Gonlum, too. The issue Efes faces is one that wiped them out last season: late-game assertiveness. They’re disciplined enough on D and adequate enough on O to stick with just about anyone on the continent. But Simone Pianigiani can smile knowing that nobody out-disciplines his Siena bunch, and Nikos Zisis has reached adequate’s outer limits in his first four turns at the wheel. Montepaschi Siena.
Partizan (0-4) vs. *Real Madrid (4-0)
Last season I watched as Real Madrid blew a 9-point fourth quarter lead against Maccabi Electra and let a No. 1 seed slip through their fingers. Maccabi had no idea their Spanish celebration was a precursor to Serbian disappointment, as Partizan stunned everyone and bested the Israelis in four games en route to a Parisian Final Four. Aleks Maric and Bo McCalebb aren’t walking through that door this time around, but Partizan’s most dangerous weapons still show up in droves with their vocal chords trembling. Their fans will not let them go winless. Partizan.
Zalgiris (1-3) vs. Power Electronics Valencia (1-3)
Portland’s injury bug apparently owns water wings. Victor Claver, Portland’s 2009 first-rounder, broke his foot this week, derailing an incredible rookie season which saw him coming off back-to-back season highs in scoring (16 both times). You know who could help replenish the scoring from the 3 spot? JR Giddens. The same JR Giddens who was suspended from the team before ever playing an EL game. I hear the rumors involved Twitpics of ice cream, fried foods and other treats Coach Pesic thought unbefitting a professional shotmaker. Zalgiris will feast on the disarray at home. Zalgiris.
Fenerbahçe Ülker (2-2) vs. Olympiacos (3-1)
The battle of attrition is already well under way between these two. Fenerbahçe is still adapting to life without their best two bigs, Mirsad Turkcan and Gasper Vidmar, while their quarterback Roko Ukic nurses an injury that kept him out in last week’s loss to Zalgiris. Olympiacos was already missing forwards Marko Keselj and Pangiotis Vasilopoulos when news came that the Euroleague’s most effective per-minute post player, Ioannis Bourousis (11.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 17 minutes per game), will miss a month with a bum finger. The Reds are far more equipped to deal with the setbacks than the Turks, as Rasho Nesterovic has looked capable of absorbing extra minutes and the Milos Teodosic + Vassilis Spanoulis guard combo already accounts for 35 percent of the Olympiacos scoring. They wouldn’t feel guilty if that number went up. Fenerbahçe needs Oguz Savas and Sean May (yes, that Sean May) to give them a little something inside and pray for two things: Roko’s health and Emir Preldzic’s sustained confidence. Fenerbahçe Ülker.