By Nikos Varlas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Οur initial analysis for the four play offs series and the favorites to travel to London was posted last week and to our pleasure what was written was also presented on the court by the eight teams with only little differences.
CSKA Moscow proved its superiority over Caja Laboral (2-0), Barcelona has to fight in order to get past Panathinaikos with the Greens having now the upper hand (1-1) and what we didn’t expected was Real Madrid and Olympiacos getting to the 2-0 without any real opposition. At this point it’s not hard to say that CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid and Olympiacos will be in London and there is also a slight advantage to Panathinaikos.
Panathinaikos – Barcelona
In the first 80 minutes of their series, Panathinaikos had Barcelona exactly on its preferred – controlled – rhythm, we have seens some low scoring games and if you judge by that, the Greens deserved the break they got. Now they are hosting the Spanish champions in a sold out OAKA for the next two games and what we can predict with ease is that we will continue to see the same kind of contests between the two teams.
The two opponents will fight till the bitter end, the score will be close and everything will be decided in the details. Specially if Lorbek continues to be missing in action and players like Huertas, Ingles and Wallace can’t contribute significantly, Barcelona will suffer and Panathinaikos will get closer to London. Banged up Navarro and the dominant personality of Saras alone can’t push Barca to a road victory. Every player of the Catalans should react, like Abrines did.
As for Panathinaikos? Expect the same basketball recipe which puts emphasis on defense, energy and outside shooting. The worst case scenario for the Greeks will be getting affected in the crucial last minutes by the pressure of a full gym by 20.000 fans, if something doesn’t go their way.
In the first two games coach Pedoulakis team didn’t have the obligation to win and wasn’t considered the favorite. However, pressure alone doesn’t mean anything and Barca should significantly improve its game in order to stay alive.
Real has a huge psychological advantage right now and also a 2-0 lead. The really bad news for Maccabi is that the Spaniards had convincing answers in five on five situations, the only part of their game that was considered weak. Still, the Israelis are a different team at home, they have a lot of energy and they are effective in their run and gun style of basketball. That could be the key, since Maccabi in order to get a win, has to be a lot more productive in the offense compared to Madrid (53 and 63 points in the first two games).
However, the hosts have also to play defense a lot better than they did in the first two games. Real Madrid’s offensive bursts have to be contained and players like Hickman, James and Smith have to step up. Still, with Ohayon being injured, we know that Maccabi will try to fight back, but Real is the big favorite for the Final Four ticket.
The defending champions have a 2-0 lead and they are already thinking about London. Anadolu Efes wasn’t up to the challenge, specially in the second game and Oktay Mahmuti in the most crucial curve of the season couldn’t find a balance between his style of basketball and the game that suits Jordan Farmar. The coach decided to give the keys of his team to Jamon Gordon, that took a lot from Farmar’s game, Sasha Vujacic isn’t yet a factor – he is proven to be a supportive player in the offense and not a leader, making the investment on him questionable – and the local players have a role only in the paint and not in the back court.
Efes has the ability to produce quality basketball and probably will have some really good minutes on the court. However at this point it’s evident that Olympiacos has the series under control through defense. We expect the Reds to get the qualification, but Efes seems to be the favorite to win the third game after two really bad performances.
Caja Laboral – CSKA Moscow
From the start the favorite in this series was obvious. CSKA’s law was imposed in Moscow, the army team got two easy wins and the difference of quality between the two opponents was clear, specially in the Russians’ reaction after their bad start in the second game.
Caja Laboral deserves all the credit and respect for its effort this year and also about its stable presence year after year in the play offs. They won their place in the best eight teams of this season’s Euroleague, but at this point the best they can do is win just one game.