The Eurocentric 2011-12 NBA Eastern Conference preview (plus Official Fearless Predictions™)

While basketball lovers are getting something of a Christmas gift this season in the December 25 NBA opening day – BiE says “something of” there because this belated debut is kinda like your parents saying, “Well, we’ll just give you your birthday gift at Christmas.” When your birthday’s in October – BallinEurope would like to add to the virtual bounty under the tree with our annual Eurocentric NBA preview.

Here’s BallinEurope’s predominant working theory for at least the first two months of this season: The teams with more critical players who did a stint in Europe (or South America, for that matter) during the lockout will jump out to the best starts. And with a shortened season increasing the importance of every individual game, imagine what a, say, 17-5 could mean in the long-term – for a European equivalent of this model, how ‘bout that CSKA Moscow turbo boost?

So Kevin Garnett’s complaining that the preseason is too short … guys like Deron Williams have already been in real-game situations. Manu Ginobili is well rested but not “in basketball shape?” The Danilo Gallinaris, Mehmet Okurs and even the Gasol Brothers of the basketball world are set to go. More back-to-back games than ever before in NBA history? Hey, perhaps those two-a-days European coaches are so notorious for assigning will have readied these NBAers well more than the fortnight many of their colleagues are getting.

BiE would even argue that latecomers such as Tiago Splitter and late-peakers like Serge Ibaka are surely few steps ahead of the many American ballers who did not take Continental clubs up on even the most outrageous of offers. It is with this dictum in mind that this preview and Official Fearless Predictions™ were written. Today, the Eastern Conference.

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NBA Western Conference Playoffs: The Eurocentric view

Rumor has it that across the ocean, this basketball league called the NBA is about to begin its playoffs. With the 2010-11 regular season behind us, BallinEurope takes a present-and-future look at the playoff-bound Europeans in the American league series by series, together with musings, meanderings, YouTube clips and those Fearless Predictions™. Today: the Western Conference matchups.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets
Could it be that someone in the Oklahoma City front office just lost faith in Nenad Krstic? The Serbian was dealt in a second when Kendrick Perkins arrived; now the Thunder has the huge presences of Perkins – now armed with reputation as clutch playoff performer – and Serge Ibaka plus Tibor Pleiß waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, BiE anticipates the possibility of another throwdown between Krstic and Sofoklis Schortsanitis in Eurobasket…

The real European plus for OK City in 2010-11 was Thabo Sefolosha. Averaging between 20 and 30 minutes per game depending on roster health, the pride of Switzerland enters the playoffs shooting 58.3% for April – could Sefolosha be the Goran Dragic of this year’s tournament?

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Team USA to take on Greece in leadup to 2010 FIBA World Championship

Tickets went on sale yesterday for this summer’s friendly match between Team USA and Team Greece in the leadup to the 2010 FIBA World Championship tournament. The Americans will be taking on Hellas in Olympic Stadium on August 25. Ticket prices range from €20 to €100.

Team USA’s national team training camp runs July 19 to 24 in Las Vegas. On the 24th, the in-team Blue vs. White game will be held at UNLV; tickets for this game and the entire “2010 USA Basketball Showcase” event cost between $12 and $75.

The 2010 FIBA World Championship starts on August 28 in Turkey. Greece tips off in Ankara against China in Group C, which also includes the hometown team, Russia, Puerto Rica and Cote d’Ivoire. The USA gets Croatia on day one in Istanbul and Group B also includes Slovenia, Iran, Brazil, and Tunisia.

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The Frank Euroleague roundup: Top 16, week one

Lima had Khryapa schooled

Lima had Khryapa schooled

Which team has already clinched a Euroleague Final Four spot? Who’s most to blame for Panathinaikos’ loss? What did Ergin Ataman do wrong? And why did Aito Garcia Reneses pull Cesar Augusto Lima with seven minutes to play? These questions are answered – OK, not that last one: That one’s a real riddle for the ages – in this week’s Euroleague roundup by Francesco Cappelletti. Read on for full illumination.

Don’t be surprised
No Aleks Maric at OAKA, no prolems for Partizan Belgrade. Panathinaikos was stunned by the Serbians at the end of a game that coach Dusko Vujosevic interpreted correctly.

Counting on deep rotations and a physicality to balance Pana’s, Partizan played slowly and strength-oriented to protect the paint while alternating between man-to-man and zone defenses: a prime reason why Nikola Pekovic was not, as predicted, game MVP in a match he should have dominated near the basket against a faux center like Lawrence Roberts and a scheming Slavko Vranes. Instead, Roberts scored 12 points and added 10 rebounds, while Vranes blocked four shots to stay on court for 31 minutes while not preoccupied by the Greek frontline.

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An open letter to European Basketball

I’m writing you today on behalf of the Los Angeles Lakers. I have no official capacity with the club, but after watching three games of the NBA Finals, you can’t help but feel sorry for guys like Phil Jackson, Sasha Vujcic, Kobe Bryant and especially Jack Nicholson, who’s about one more fourth-quarter comeback away from open-heart surgery. Something has to be done, and as a fan I appeal to you, the Old World, for assistance.

Simply put, the Lakers are one player short of a championship and European basketball may be uniquely qualified to help: The player I envision would be exactly the sort bred and trained in the European style.

Of course, the Zen Master is primarily known for two things in the world of hoops: His nine championship rings and his triangle offense. The two are inextricably linked and when properly executed, the triangle has proven deadly time and again. When the triangle is broken and the double-post offense becomes another variation on big guy-in-the-paint, Phil’s Lakers or (albeit far less frequently) Bulls lost.

During the heyday of Shaquille O’Neal’s time with the Lakers, Jackson once explained that one of the reasons why Wilt Chamberlain was so dominant in his time was because his teams employed the triangle offense. With such a presence in the lane to act as a sort of human lighthouse overseeing ball movement on the court, Wilt’s teammates could set Chamberlain up underneath over and over and over … sometimes up to 100 points’ worth of over.

With Andrew Bynum out, the problem for the Lakers in these playoffs has been a complete lack of inside presence. I can’t quite remember how Los Angeles continued winning after Bynum went down, but that was a long time ago anyway…

Now I know what you’re thinking, Europe: Guys like Shaq are rare anywhere in the world, much less in much of Europe. Hell, the only European O’Neal couldn’t single-handedly destroy in his prime was Arvydas Sabonis and another Sabonis is hardly waiting in the wings. But a force of nature like Shaq is hardly required for Phil & Co. to win a title, however; as evidence, check out the hardly megastar-level centers employed by the 1990s Chicago Bulls: Bill Cartwright and Luc Longley.

All the Lakers need is a center that can find the open man on the pass once in a while, a skill for which Longley was underrated throughout his career and one developed to perfection by Shaq by the time he left L.A.

Plus, the all-around skills the European game teaches the big guys are solely lacking American training. Another guy from the Continent would create just a beautiful passing game with the likes of Vujacic, Bryant and Derek Fisher on the floor at the same time. It seems to me the Lakers had something like that not so long ago…

To tell the truth, the Lakers don’t even need a star in the middle right now. With Lamar Odom capable of producing a double-double on any night even against the tenacious Celtic ‘D’, all Los Angeles needs in a capable big body to put on the hardly huge Kevin Garnett. On offense, a Laker big guy would only need skills enough to get around the hardly quick Kendrick Perkins. In fact, Perkins is just ready to be eaten alive by a quick guy unafraid to take it to the hoop.

Oh yes, fearlessness: That’s another quality I’m looking for in my new Laker player. Perhaps a player with a little high-pressure international play on his CV would be able to handle the high intensity of an NBA best-of-seven series. Like all other fans, Laker fans need to know their center won’t wilt under the heat of the media spotlight.

Finally, a modicum of hustle would be great. Sometimes a little awareness can go a long way. A prospective Laker from Europe would always have the stamina to run the length of the floor, to always know whom he’s playing against on defense, and to constantly put his body between the opposition and the basket. Just look at the energy and smarts displayed by Vujacic and Luke Walton, guys that might never make the Hall of Fame but will have earned it just as much as Michael Jordan if ever immortalized as champions.

Again do I appeal to you, o Europe, great father of the USA. You’ve gotta help the Lakers. In short, what the team appears to need is a Marc Gasol type, but maybe a year or two older, with some NBA experience.

You have anybody like that over there?

Thank you for your help.

Os Davis

P.S. Como se dice “Wake up and smell the coffee, Pau, game four’s in two days!” en Español?