Here it comes: a full slate of four games to tip off the Euroleague Playoff Round tonight. And how could BallinEurope miss another chance to post more Fearless Predictions™? Below, a brief take on each game plus videos and those ever-popular prognostications. Enjoy the games!
• Caja Laboral Baskonia vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv – BiE’s been waiting for confirmation one way or another on this: Is Maccabi the second-best team in Europe right now or not? They seem to be bringing The Continent’s second-most name players into the Baskonia matchup…
With hours left to go, the following sentiment dominates analysis of the game, so BiE’ll just lengthily quote the nice summation in Israel-based news outlet Haaretz here: “Taking Sofoklis Schortsanitis as a factor out of the game will be the primary goal tonight of coach Dusko Ivanovic as his Caja Laboral Vitoria hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv in Game 1 of their best-of-five Euroleague series. Ivanovic says he doesn’t believe that Maccabi has a realistic alternative to the Greek giant, and that forcing Schortsanitis into early foul trouble will be the key to winning the opener, to which the Montenegrin coach ascribes a lot of importance.”
Plus, expect the Baskonians to run, run, run in an effort to tire the big man for which the Spanish side has no real answer. BiE dares say that Caja Laboral will only be able to win this series if they can control the pace *and* outshoot Maccabi. Tel Aviv’s sole Achilles’ heel is three-point shooting. After addressing the Sofoklis conundrum, Baskonia will additionally have to force the Israeli side to play a perimeter game where David Blatt has preached conservatism (in 16 Euroleague games in 2010-11, Maccabi has taken just 288 shots, as compared with Baskonia’s 355), but with multi-faceted Mike Batiste certain to stretch Baskonia defenses, this may be too much to ask.
Scribbles: Key matchups include Stanko Barac vs. Sofoklis, Fernando San Emeterio vs. Chuck Eidson, and Marcelinho Huertas vs. Pargo and Perkins … Caja Laboral won all three away games in the last Euroleague round … these two teams are the highest-scoring in the league in 2010-11 … each side represents the other’s worst defeat of the year (Baskonia beat Maccabi by a stunning 16 points in the EL opener, while Tel Aviv bested Baskonia by 11 in week six).
BiE Fearless Prediction™: Maccabi Tel Aviv in four games.
• Real Madrid vs. Power Electronics Valencia – With Valencia red-hot at 7-1 overall since dropping two to Olympiacos in mid-February plus the last-minute coaching change forced upon Real, you’d figure more sentiment would be on the Cinderella story’s side for this series. Except that Victor Claver won’t be playing.
Despite belief to the contrary, however, Valencia seems to have found the way to play without their second-high scorer – the aforementioned eight-game run began with the first match sans Claver in the starting lineup – while Nando “Aladdin” de Colo seems to have found new license in the Claver-less squad; most recently, the two guard turned in a nice 7-of-8, 14-point performance against Fuenlabrada.
Plus, BiE loves the way Omar Cook has been directing the Valencia offense lately and brings some nice experience to this playoff round; from the league’s official site: “Cook has made a habit of improving with each new round, leading the Top 16 in assists all three seasons. This time, he outdid himself by setting a new Top 16 record 7.2 per game. Cook’s career average of 5.4 assists per game is the best in Euroleague Basketball history. Cook was also the Top 16’s co-leader in steals with 2.5 per game this season and has been among the top five in that category in each Top 16 he has played.”
What’s that, you say? Sergio Rodriguez is out for the series and Clay Tucker is questionable? Imagine Omar Cook as EL playoff round MVP…
BiE Fearless Prediction™: Power Electronics Valencia in four. You read that right.
• Regal FC Barcelona vs. Panathinaikos – Is Barcelona the team of destiny this Euroleague season? The defending champions’ first leap of faith came in the off-season when few of the 2009-10 parted ways with the Spanish side. And when the original Final Four location in Italy fell through to be replaced by the home venue of the Blaugrana, well, things looked pretty inevitable early.
So here we are in March and, yes indeed, Barca again appears to be Europe’s superior squad. Excepting Pete Mickeal’s long absence, Barcelona has been major injury-free in 2010-11; PAO on the other hand will be relieved to have Aleks Maric finally back – but can this return be enough to compete with the Continent’s deepest bench?
The X-factor for Panathinaikos will most assuredly be Mike Batiste, who’s enjoying a career year at the age of 33 for the Greek side. As so many Spanish clubs have reckoned, a PAO upset will have to begin with punishing physical play inside, beginning with Batiste and Antonis Fotsis.
Oh, and there’s still that much-anticipated Ricky Rubio vs. Diamatidis Dimitris battle up top as well…
BiE Fearless Prediction™: Barcelona in four games.
• Olympiacos vs. Montepaschi Siena – The two big storylines here: injuries (again) and a contrast in styles. Happily, both teams are returning key members with the Reds seeing the return of Ioannis Bourousis after he’d sat out two games and Siena surely rejoicing at Bo McCalebb’s return.
Except … could Bo’s comeback be at all detrimental? With Nikos Zisis having run the offense to the tune of four straight Euroleague wins, will Simone Pianigiani continue to let his Greek guard handle the ball? Will McCalebb be playing at the two spot? Will Bo and Nikos rotate? And what about Rimantas Kaukenas, who’s gone for double figures in seven of the past EL games as he gets more touches?
The key stat, from the league’s official website: “The series features a clash of styles as Olympiacos ranked third in the Euroleague in scoring (79.1 ppg), while Montepaschi allowed the second fewest points in the competition (67.8 ppg).” Siena also leads the 2010-11 Euroleague with 10.1 steals per game.
Another key stat: Though Olympiacos has amassed a 21-9 record against Italian teams in Euroleague play, the Reds are an incredible 0-2 against Siena, having lost to them in 2007 and 2008.
BiE Fearless Prediction™: Siena just can’t get quite hot enough from outside and Olympiacos overwhelms with superior talent; Olympiacos in four games.