One of the most interesting playoff series is going to take place between two teams with completely different backgrounds and history in the Euroleague.
After advancing to the competition’s quarterfinals for the first time ever, and with the home-court advantage in hand, cinderella Lokomotiv Kuban wants to make the next step into becoming a princess. The lack of glamour doesn’t take any of the beauty of the game that the Russian team performs, a basketball equilibrium that expands on both ends of court and connects the dots from defense to offense almost ideally. With players able to undertake some heavy multitasking, Lokomotiv Kuban can win games either by emptying barrels of pure lead on the basket, or by “asphyxiating” its opponents, preventing them from scoring. We are, after all, talking about the best defensive team in Euroleague, which receives only 69 points per game.
This is perhaps Loko’s biggest weapon in the playoffs against Barcelona. Coach Bartzokas’ team has the upper hand in most of the match-ups, and he can use different squads that are characterized by their adaptability. Although ambitious, Lokomotiv and most of its players are inexperienced in this stage of Euroleague. Quite possibly, this is their only obvious disadvantage, especially considering the fact that their opponents, either as a whole or as individuals, are quite knowledgeable on what needs to be done in this kind of crucial games.
What Barcelona lacks in balance, when being compared with Lokomotiv Kuban, carries it in large quantities of some elements that might destroy anyone who will underestimate them. There’s talent in abundance, experience and personalities who know how to take victories. Because of the latter, Barcelona was one of the top “refuse to lose” teams in the Top 16, winning at least three crucial games (the one against CSKA Moscow at home and versus Real Madrid in both games) in the last minute or even seconds. They finished third in a quite difficult Group mainly thanks to five victories in seven games, during the second leg of the Top 16. Or, if you will, in the “post Joey Dorsey” period.
Not having the home-court advantage can be an issue for a Barcelona that has struggled on the road during the previous stage, having won only two games away from home. One of them with a buzzer beater (vs Real Madrid) and the other against the weakest team (Zalgiris Kaunas) in the Group, and not before suffering a bit first. On the other hand, Lokomotiv has lost only one match in Krasnodar during the Top 16. So Barcelona has to deal with both its own inability to deliver on the road and the Russians’ comfort when they perform in front of their fans.
Malcolm Delaney is the complete combo guard package, and then some. He scores (15.8 p.p.g.), he dishes assists (5,8 p.g.) and even gets rebounds (3.3 p.g.). No man in Euroleague has played more minutes (33. 2 p.g.) than he has in the season, and that’s pretty much saying everything on how important he is in Loko’s game. If his drives provide successful breaches in Barcelona’s often problematic defense, then the scoring opportunities for him and his teammates will be multiplied.
You probably know all there is to know already about the top scorer ever in Euroleague, Juan Carlos Navarro. “La Bomba” might be past his prime, since this is the first season in his career in which he doesn’t score in double digit numbers (8.3) but he remains one of the most feared players in the continent. He knows that this is the time to step up his game, and be aggressive. While Lokomotiv has able defensive guards, he is a specialist on dealing with opposing defenses.
The Key match-up:
As a 7-footer who can hit jumpers almost as good as a shooting guard, Anthony Randolph poses a serious threat to Barcelona’s defense. Of course, his offensive skills do not end there as his 14.2 points he had in the Top 16 testify. With 6 rebounds and 1 block per game, the American player doesn’t forsake his other duties. But it’s his mobility that mainly puts him high in the list of worries that Barcelona has to deal with.
But hey, Joey Dorsey is a player who has shown that he can stop every type and kind of opponent. Since he returned to Barcelona for the second leg of the Top 16, the experienced center has transformed his team’s game, especially in defense. His area of expertise. He is also king of the boards, since he gathers 8.1 rebounds in less than 20 minutes of playing time. It is possible that he will stay on court for much longer against Lokomotiv though, since he is the most perfect fit for the big guys he will face.
It is all about athleticism with these two. With 10.5 points and 6.1 points per game, Victor Claver greatly affects his team’s game on both ends of court. Compared to Barcelona’s power forwards he is much more dynamic and strong in physical game situations, while his aptitude for three-pointers (19/39, 48% in the Top 16) can create extra imbalances to the Catalans’ defense, since he will attract a body outside the paint, every time he is behind the arc.
Now Tomas Satoransky can provide all-around helps (9 points, 3.9 assists, 2.7 steals per game) for his team and he is also one of the players who can bring an extra spark when things go badly stagnant in Barcelona’s offense. He is highly energetic and fast in transition, and his team will need his explosiveness to break through the ranks of such a good defensive opponent.
Lokomotiv Kuban has never tasted the playoff experience before, but Giorgos Bartzokas has. Before lifting the trophy in 2013 with Olympiacos, the Greek coach had won Anadolu Efes 3-2. One year later the Reds lost the chance to fight for the three-peat after being eliminated by Real Madrid with the same record.
Xavi Pascual certainly knows his way around the playoffs, after participating in them during each and every season he has served as head coach in Barcelona. This will be the eighth playoff series for coach Pascual who has been victorious in five so far, with a 17 – 11 game record.
History is in the making for first-timer Lokomotiv Kuban. But Barcelona has plenty of it, after participating in all playoff series from 2006 and onwards. In 10 quarterfinal series, they have made it to the Final Four six times (2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014), while they have won 21 games while losing 16.
Giorgos Bartzokas began the 2012-2013 season in Olympiacos with Stratos Perperoglou and Joey Dorsey, who currently play for Barcelona, in the team’s roster. While the first proceeded to win the Euroleague with the Reds, Dorsey parted ways with the team early in the season after some incidents of undisciplined behavior.