After putting up a sterling fight through the opening five games of the series, Neptunas were out of gas by the time they took on reigning champions Zalgiris. The result was almost a formality from the off as the home side cruised past the underdogs. It was a brave but utterly outclassed effort from Neptunas that was reminiscent of many of their clashes in the VTB League this season. To their credit, Neptunas were never expected to force the series to six games but that should not outshine a sterling job by Zalgiris. The Kaunas side has endured a troubled season but still managed to take down Lietuvos Rytas in the semi finals before retaining their crown in this series.
The slate is clean for the Top 16. We’re breaking down what we know about each team in the second phase, what we want to know, and what we think we still won’t know after 14 rounds of action. We went through Group E yesterday, now it’s time to look at Group F.
What we know: They are an offensive monster. Going 24-0 in all competitions to date, this is the best start enjoyed by any Real Madrid team ever.
What we want to know: Their weaknesses. Even a team this good has to have some but nobody’s come close to testing them yet.
What we won’t know: How they handle a low-scoring match-up.
What we know: They are so Maccabi. This team is business-like but stops well short of flashy. Yup, sounds like what we expect from this outfit every year.
What we want to know: How they stack up to RMB.
What we won’t know: Their ceiling. This is the weaker of the two groups and a 10-4 record is possible without causing any major shocks.
What we know: They are flawed. Talented, yes, and en route to the playoffs but inconsistency has dogged this team when it was the one aspect Ettore Messina was expected to fix this year.
What we want to know: If they can settle on their best line-up.
What we won’t know: If any of this matters. In a flip from last year’s team, the ability to get hot in a hurry may be this side’s saving grace.
Galatasaray Liv Hospital
What we know: They are weaker than their record. All statistical measures outside the W-L column point to this team being in much worse health than the regular season record indicated. Over 14 games, that’ll be tough to mask.
What we want to know: If there’s a plan longer than half a season.
What we won’t know: See above.
What we know: They are survivors. No VTB League campaign, struggling in LKL, yet here they stand in the Top 16.
What we want to know: How they are going to balance their priorities.
What we won’t know: What the long-term future is.
What we know: They are seriously motivated to make an impact in Euroleague, as evidenced by a regular season where they silenced many doubters.
What we want to know: What was on their bulletin board to get them so fired up through the autumn.
What we won’t know: Where to buy a good beer in Krasnodar.
What we know: They will give one of the top three teams in this group a heart attack on their home court.
What we want to know: If they can play consistent enough to mount a real challenge for the last playoff spot.
Whzt we won’t know: If this is a renaissance or a blip.
What we know: They are the most dangerous looking team from the Bundesliga to enter the Top 16 in a long time, which admittedly isn’t much of an achievement.
What we want to know: If they can capitalise on a soft group and get that last playoff spot.
What we won’t know: The date at which all of Europe should realise these guys ain’t playing anymore and a real power is emerging out of the Bundesliga.
Fearless prediction: Real to take top spot, Maccabi to squeeze CSKA for second, leaving the mother of all fights for fourth. Kuban look the best bet on paper but…this is a fearless prediction so nope. FC Bayern to steal it from the cookie jar.
The Turkish Airlines Euroleague is well under way but the action isn’t letting up anytime soon, thanks to some thrilling games on round four.
The pick of the night’s matches came from Group D as Eurocup champion Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnoda defeated Panathinaikos Athens 69 – 72 in an exciting match. Lokomotiv led for most of the game, the most it led by was 43 – 56 early in the fourth quarter before Panathinaikos made its comeback and leveled the game at 69 – 69 with six seconds to go.
It was Krunoslav Simon who made the difference, burying the game-winner in the final second to give Lokomotiv the win.
There were more important wins in Group B as EA7 Emporio Armani Milan grabbed an important 62 – 76 victory over Brose Baksets Bamberg, evening out its record in Group B at 2 – 2.
Bamberg was on the back foot as Milan held the lead for most of the game. Nicolo Melli of Milan made a pair of three-pointers to give the visitors a 33 – 43 lead at halftime, but Bamberg fought its way back and reduced the deficit to two points early in the fourth quarter. However, a strong defensive display from Milan ensured that a comeback didn’t happen, with a pair of Keith Langford jumpers securing a Milan victory.
Back in group D, another thriller took place in Lithuania as Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv grabbed a tight 74 – 76 victory over Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius. After its shock win over Panathinaikos in the opening win, Lietuvos’ has yet to record a win and losing by the narrowest of margins will be scant consolation for the team.
Maccabi led by as many as 18 points during one point, but Rytas pulled back and ensured that the final quarter was full of thrills. Rytas eventually went in front to go 71 – 70 with 1:55 to go. With the two sides tied at 74 – 74, it was Tyrese Rice who scored the winner with 3.5 seconds to go.
The remaining games that night saw Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade picking up its first Euroleague victory in Group B by defeating Laboral Kutxa Vitoria 63 – 73.
In Group D, Tadija Dragicevic saw off a stubborn Zalgiris Kaunas side 72 – 61 thanks to an impressive fourth quarter display, while Real Madrid made sure its flying start to the season continued with a 66 – 85 win over Strasbourg. Madrid’s victory meant that it tops Group B with a 4-0 record, making it the best four-game start in the competition this century.
- Quinton O’Reilly (@qoreilly)
The third series of games in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague got underway on Halloween night, but instead of frights and scares, it was a night filled with thrilling matches and shocking victories as the season gathers momentum.
Budivelnik Kiev had a night to remember as it became the first Ukranian team to win a game in the Euroleague. It thumped Partizan NIS Belgrade 74 – 69 at home in a hard fought game.
The result means that both teams are tied in Group A, each holding a 1 – 2 record. It was Darjus Lavrinovic who gave Budivelnik the edge as he provided 22 points and 8 rebounds while DaJuan Summers and Ricky Minard scored 15 and 10 points respectively. The game was also memorable for a thrilling second quarter where impressive scoring from both sides saw the half end 44 – 42
Both teams have their work cut out if they want to catch up with Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, who currently top the group. The Turkish side remain unbeaten in Group A as it thrashed CSKA Moscow 86 – 60. The hosts provided in style thanks to contributions from Bojan Bogdanovic and Bo McCalebb.
For Moscow, it was its worst loss in 16 years, meaning that the team will want to put it behind them soon when they face FC Barcelona next week.
Barcelona is another team that’s looking to forget last night as it lost to JSF Nanterre 67 – 71 at home. The game gave the French champions’ its first victory in the Euroleague and made them the first French team to win in Palau Blaugrana in more than 17 years, the last team being Asvel Basket back in 1996.
Nanterre secured the upset in the final 28.8 seconds when free throws by Victor Sada tied both sides at 67-67 before Je’Kel Foster secured the win with a layup. Juan Carlos Navarro of Barcelona had the chance to level both sides but missed from downtown at the buzzer.
The final game of the night came from Group B as Zalgiris Kaunas defeated Strasbourg 88 – 64, making it a debut to remember for Kaunas’ new head coach Saulius Stombergas.
The Lithuanian champions hit an impressive 14 triples on only 22 attempts, and was helped by Martynas Pocius who got 7 of 9 from downtown, while scoring 23 points and contributing 5 assists in only 24 minutes. The night was also notable for Sarunas Jasikevicius as he became the seventh player in history to score 300 three-pointers, scoring 13 points off the bench.
This week’s podcast pays homage to the axiom that, when in doubt about what to talk about in European basketball, simply go to Lithuania. And who better to discuss Team Lithuania’s chances in Eurobasket 2013, Linas Kleiza’s release from the Toronto Raptors, Zalgiris Kaunas’ exit from the VTB United League and such topics than Lithuania Basket’s Simas Baranauskas? Few, we think. (Spoiler: Simas is “cautiously optimistic” about Lietuva in the Slovenia tourney.)
Hein and yours truly also bring the speculation and chatter about recent moves and events in European ball and abroad, touching on Kostas Papanikalaou staying with prospective threepeaters Olympiacos; Richard Hendrix staying in his niche on Eurocup champs Lokomotiv Kuban; the success of Milwaukee Bucks draft pick Giannis Antetokounmpo in the FIBA U20 European Championship tournament; Andrei Kirilenko taking a pay cut to join the Brooklyn Nets (which is clearly about kickbacks and not pursuing an NBA title ); Bogdan Bogdanovic eschewing those same Nets for another turn with Fenerbahçe Ülker; and Bobby Brown attempting to crack the New York Knicks roster.
All this and our sports movie review of the week, the so-bad-it’s-marvelous Jean-Claude Van Damme flick Double Team co-starring none other than Dennis Rodman and Mickey “The Wrestler” Rourke. Ever wonder why The Worm has had to resort to bizarre forays into North Korea for HBO in order to stay in the entertainment biz? Rodman brazenly putting his acting “chops” in this flick will explain all. And remember: Offense gets all the glory, but defense wins championships…
Check out the entire podcast here or to subscribe from this episode ad infinitum, enter http://heinnews.com/feed/taking-the-charge/ into iTunes or any podcast aggregator.
Flawed, top-heavy and not exactly consistent in attendance it may be, but the VTB United League still garners BallinEurope’s attention – particularly come playoff time when ages-old rivalries add new chapters to stories first begun in the days of the Soviet Union.
Besides, who needs an excuse to run another YouTube highlight clip…?
From the VTB folks, then, running below are the top five plays from the recently-completed quarterfinal round, starring Unics Kazan’s Mire Chatman, Zalgiris Kaunas’ Robertas Javtokas, Lokomotiv Kuban’s Mantas Kalnietis, BC Khimki’s Sergey Monya and CSKA Moscow’s Anton Ponkrashov. Three-pointers, blocks, alley-oops – they’re all here. Enjoy!
Now available online is episode 26 of the BallinEurope/heinnews co-hosted podcast, Taking the Charge. It’s a heavy serving of Russia with a side of Lithuania this week. This week the list of subjects on which we natter includes the following.
• Interviews with CSKA Moscow’s Sasha Kaun, who reveals a touch of March Madness, and Eurocup semifinalist Bilbao Basket/Team Russia coach Fotios Katsikaris, the guy who’s been handed the reins formerly manned by David Blatt – and perhaps a shell of the Olympic bronze-winning team…
• The respective fates of CSKA Moscow and Zalgiris Kaunas going into Friday’s Euroleague game. After this podcast was recorded, the will-he-won’t-he story on Ksystof Lavrinovic broke; while early sources reported the twin’s departure to be a done deal, a BallinEurope reader has pointed out that Ksystof informed Lithuania-based media that he would “remain with Zalgiris regardless of the situation.”
With the sad departure of Tremmell Darden and the mathematical probability of Euroleague advancement very low, things can’t get much worse for Zalgiris Kaunas.
Or maybe they can. Just before midnight yesterday, Lithuania-based basketball website Krepsinis.net reported that Ksystof Lavrinovic has received offers to jump ship from more than one Russian team and “will soon leave” Zalgiris.
The teams were unnamed, but Krepsinis notes that, while players can no longer added to Euroleague rosters, any additions made would still be allowed to play in VTB United and Russian League games through the season’s remainders.
As BallinEurope’s man in Lithuania Y. would surely say, “Just frustrating.” And the nadir may not have been reached yet…
All right, so BallinEurope has been considering the case of this season’s Zalgiris Kaunas — a team that went 17-2 in European competition in calendar year 2012 but has since shown a distinctly alarming propensity for losing close ones — all weekend to the ultimate result of 1,200 words or so coming to no concrete conclusions. So it’s your turn: What do you think the problem has been the Greens’ primary problem?
No, wait, strike that. Let’s start over.
The conversations BallinEurope has with peers in the European basketball blogosphere lately tend to drift toward one team: Žalgiris Kaunas, a team that, in spite of a roster chockfull of experienced talent, simply cannot close out games and fall apart in the clutch.
It’s one of the two, anyway. Or maybe not: Perhaps we can lay the blame at Joan Plaza’s feet (though expectations going into the season were long) or on the subpar refereeing (which might be stretching things a bit considering the sum total of questionable calls in game seven of the Euroleague Top 16 round worked out in the Greens’ favor).
Maybe the front-office issues and lack of payment to players have been overwhelmingly distracting (as Marko Popovic told heinnews and BiE in a recent Taking the Charge podcast interview, “We made a deal at the beginning of the season that this team would stay together until the end of the season, no matter what happens. Hopefully people are going to recognize the way that we play for this club, the way that we show on the court and hopefully the financial status is going to change. We are just focused on the court. Of course we hear the rumors going on around the club but we are trying to be focused, which is not easy, I gotta be honest…”
Maybe it’s none of the above, some of the above, or all of the above. But with Žalgiris now looking at a 4-6 record after another heartbreaker to Real Madrid last week, Lithuania’s remaining representative may have already bad-lucked itself out of a Euroleague playoff spot after starting out at a strong 8-2 clip. An examination of crucial moments may give some insight into the Bizarro equivalent of last season’s Olympiacos squad. Or perhaps not.