Stretch your legs, inhale, exhale, surround yourself with your fave munchies (Tobias, this is where the “pizza delivery” banner should appear!) and get ready for another edition of Euroleague Joints.
So here we stand – Group A
With three more weeks to play in the regular season, it’s time to take a glimpse at the standings. Group A is where things are pretty much set regarding the qualifiers. Avellino has nothing but a theoretical chance to make it, so the top four will be Olympiacos, Unicaja, Cibona and Maccabi. All spots are still open, considering those four still have several games among themselves, but the key will be the Maccabi – Olympiacos and Cibona – Unicaja games. With road wins, the quartet will split into two. Anything else will create a big mess.
Although in recent years, things have changed a bit with the rise of Rytas, not many great Lithuanian players make it to the top without wearing the jersey of Zalgiris. It seems like this season those few will make an extra effort when they meet the greatest club of their nation, who missed their potential at some point on the road. After Saras showed no mercy last week, this time it was turn for Rimas Kaukenas and Ksystof Lavrinovic to display their finesse skills against the mothership.
Just as in the game in Kaunas in Week 2, when they tallied an index rating of 25 (Kaukenas) and 23 (Ksystof), this week they excelled with 24 (Ksystof) and 20 (Kaukenas). Lavrinovic, by the way, is on a terrible shooting streak lately: After starting the season 9-for-14 from long range, in the last three games he missed all ten attempts.
Ioannis’ deja vu
One of the main reasons Unicaja kept their home record perfect after a challenging game against Olympiacos was their tough and aggressive defense that matched the one the Greeks usually bring to court. In the second half Olympiacos was blocked no fewer than six times, and other than one great block on the 7 million dollar man, the other five were all on Yannakis’ big guys: Sofo, Vujcic and Bourousis. The last felt it stronger than anyone else, as he was blocked no fewer than three times, on the final occasion during a crucial possession right under Unicaja’s rim with Olympiacos down by 2.
Bourousis has been one of the best and most efficient centers this season in the Euroleague, and blocking a big guy as him isn’t an easy task, but that play marked Unicaja’s justified win more than anything else. By the way, the last time Bourousis was blocked three times in a single game was more than three years ago when Climamio Bologna smashed his former team, AEK Athens, 88-55, on November 9, 2005. In that three-year span, he was blocked a total of eight times, never more than once in a single game.
Charlie, stay away from home
A few players have been diagnosed here with the rare “Life on the road” syndrome, prime symptom of which is having better games on the road than in front of their own fans. Cyril Julian finally broke the spell with a good performance at home, clearing the stage for Efes’ Charles Smith. The US shooter can hardly find the net in Abdi Ipekci when he’s shooting his famous three pointers, but on the road he’s one of the most dangerous weapons. In Istanbul, he has thus far gone 4-for-24 and hasn’t hit more than one in a game. On the road, Smith has scored at least two threes per game and is a super 12-for-23 overall. Next week he’s in Greece: Get ready.
Let the kids play
The garbage minutes in Vitoria gave us a chance to follow two of the most promising youngsters in the Euroleague this season. Olimpija’s Mirza Sarajlija is already a familiar face for those following Olimpija the past three weeks. Seeing Sarajlija play for 20 minutes, especially when Ilievski is injured, was no surprise. For the first time he finished without making a field goal but still collected four points and three steals.
On the other side, we saw Argentinian prospect, 1990-born guard Matias Nocedal, step on court for the second time this season after earning 10 minutes in the blowout against Alba and scored his first Euroleague points on the way to an index rating of 8, higher than Igor, Pablo and Tiago…
So here we stand – Group B
Barca and MPS have qualified officially and Pao are in as well, unofficially, although they will need a miracle to finish first. Next week, Stonerook and the gang travel to Barcelona where first place will most probably be decided. Pao will pray for an Italian win and then try to beat them in Tuscany, but even that may not be enough for them to reach the vertex of the group. The small loss in France turned Prokom into a favorite to finish 4th, but since they still need to travel to Kaunas as well as Nancy, everything is still wide open. Zalgiris must win both games by large margins to have a chance, but it’s doable. With a win in Lithuania, Prokom will advance.
Congratulations! After seven games, Zalgiris Kaunas has finally gotten over the 70-point barrier, and of all places they did it at Montepaschi, where no team has passed the 71 line since Pao in February. Jonas Maciulis ultimately showed up with what so many expected to see of him this season: 21 points, 5-for-9 FGs, 3-for-3 on three pointers, 4 assists, 4 steals and lots of energy. With Maciulis in good shape and Mantas Kalnietis contributing his best Euroleague performance ever, the Greens can finally show their face back home. Montepaschi’s win was never in doubt, but Zalgiris still deserve good words for their performance, even when Willie Deane scored yet another performance of negative index rating with -2.
Bluth is back
This one was no competition: In the weekly battle between David Bluthenthal and Dewarick Spencer, we saw a landslide when Bluth took 12 shots (including one from half court that went in) against only two for his teammate. For Spencer, it’s a career low since moving to Europe including domestic league games. Well, leave out two playoff games with Efes last season, where he hardly spent minutes on court and attempted less, if you insist on the small details, but in the other 141 games the US shooting guard never took so few shots. Nevertheless, he leads the race 4-3 with three more games to play.
Arroyo inherited Parker
Carlos Arroyo is the most expensive player in the history of Maccabi Tel Aviv, and this week he wrote his name in the history books of the prestigious club while ejecting none other than the legendary Anthony Parker. Sounds like a good thing, right? Well, think again.
Like several past Joints here, this one should be credited as well to Arale Weisberg of Ynet.co.il, one of the brightest basketball journalists out there. Mr. Weisberg found Arroyo’s index rating of -10 at Avellino to be the worst performance a Maccabi player has scored since the move to ULEB. Checking some other unforgettable terrible games of the past, such as this horrible show by Tom Chambers, resulted in no contenders from the FIBA days.
What does this have to do with Parker? Well, other than topping the all-time index rating average standings in the Euroleague, Parker also held the record for the worst performance in Maccabi uniforms until this Thursday. To see Parker with a -9 in that column isn’t something human eye can adjust to in a second, so clear some of your schedule for that. Arroyo? After the 2/13 on opening night at Cibona, he put in a terrible 2-point, 1-for-11 game this week. Next week, at Le Mans, where point guards usually celebrate, he’ll have a chance to fix the impression.