By Panos Katsiroumbas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
This was a very important week for the qualification race in both groups in Top16 with many important games. Some teams came closer to their target, some others stayed alive and there is also some cases of crisis during this huge battle. Let’s have a closer look to this week’s action and the important aspects of what happened on the floor
Barcelona has already a 9-0 record in the Top16 and continues to be the only unbeaten team in the hardest group of all time in Euroleague. They won games in every tempo, either quick like the games against Olympiakos, Malaga and Milano and also set games like those against Panathinaikos, Fenerbahce and Anadolu Efes. They score an average of 81 points with a very balanced offensive effort from backcourt and frontcourt, with an big rotation and good performance no matter which player steps on the court. They have quite an explosive chemistry and in just 5 or 10 good minutes they can destroy any other team. They have beaten their opponents with an average of 10 points difference and additionally they have one of the best defenses in the competition. All these aspects, together with very few problem of injuries show that Barca seems to be maybe the biggest favorite to get a ticket to the Final Four and also one of the most persuasive teams at this moment.
An injured leader!!!
Keith Langford was doubtful for the game against Olympiakos in Piraeus. He not only he played, but also lead his team in a very big road win that gives them the upper hand for the qualification and the home court advantage in the playoffs. He scored 20 points with huge baskets in the end and also had 8 assists, all of them leading to important points for his teammates. A real leader for the team from Lombardy and also an MVP candidate for the whole Top 16. We have to note also the very good work of the coach and his staff that manage to solve the problems of team chemistry that appeared in the beginning of the Top16. Hackett became a more solid defender and also a creative player during the Top16, Langford stand up to the role of the main offensive threat, Samardo Samuels created a very strong front line duet with Gani Lawal, David Moss is a defensive monster and all the other players have their part in the well oiled machine of the Italian team.
Huge problems for the defending champions
Olympiakos has three straight losses and the last one – at home against Milano – can be very damaging for the defending champs. The Reds had to cope for the second game in a row with the absence of their captain Vassilis Spanoulis, but we saw some things in this game that just have no sense. Olympiakos played against a team that has one of the best backcourts in the competition with only two guards, Mantzaris and Sloukas. The other two guards in the roster of Olympiakos Collins and Katsivelis played together 8 minutes. Collins till know seems to be in a bad shape but there’s no reason for Katsivelis to play only 3 minutes. Instead of him coach Bartzokas used as second guard for almost 18 minutes Matt Lojeski, a player that cannot create as a second guard, cannot play pick and roll and it’s not easy for him to guard players like Langford or Hackett and Jerrells. Lojeski is a spot shooter and can create and pass the ball very well when he takes it and founds the opponents’ defense unbalanced. This was a terrible mistake that erased all the advantages of Lojeski and also created a lot of fatigue for Sloukas and Mantzaris, leading to bad defense from both of them in the last and crucial quarter of the game. Moreover the team decided to release Jamario Moon and Mirza Begic, however Cedric Simmons didn’t step on the court in a very closed rotation. Olympiakos seems to be confused and has to solve many problems, although they are defending champions and as Rudy Tomjanovic, coach of Houston Rockets in the back to back NBA titles, said “Do not ever underestimate the heart of the champion”.
The heartbreaking team!!
CSKA Moscow is the team in Top16 which provides thrilling finishes regularly and has to provide their fans with anti stressed pills when entering the arena to watch their games. Five of their nine games in the second round ended with less than 3 points differences. In the majority of those, CSKA managed to get the win, lost only in the game against Partizan in Belgrade and its greatest performances come against their biggest opponents in the group Real Madrid and Maccabi. CSKA needs stability on the court and to play better defense because at this moment it’s not a team that frightens its opponents.
Bayern lost, Lokomotiv rise!
This week many people believed that Bayern will have the opportunity to get one step closer to the qualification by visiting Partizan which was the last in the Group’s standings. At the same time Lokomotiv Kuban faced Maccabi, a team which beat the Russians three times this season. But things didn’t turned out the way the Germans wanted. They played their worst offensive game in Euroleague, scoring only 55 points when they have an average of 72, Delaney had only 2 points, the first single digit game in scoring for him in the Top16, they committed 5 extra turnovers than their usual number and they shoot just 22/61 field goals. On the other side Lokomotiv won a thriller against Maccabi during which David Blu lost the opportunity to give his team the big victory. Krunoslav Simon was again the player that led his team in the final period, scoring all the big baskets and gave them hope for the qualification again. The situation changed totally in this group with Lokomotiv now being the favorite for the fourth spot. Bayern lost a big opportunity and Maccabi is a longshot for the first two places in the group, even though they have to play in Tel Aviv against both Real Madrid and CSKA.
These are the defensive “achievements” of Fenerbahce outside of Turkey. Four losses in four games with terrible defense. It’s obligatory for the Turkish team to win one or both of their remaining road games, in Vitoria against Laboral Kutxa and in Athens against Panathinaikos in order to have possibilities to advance to the playoffs. With such bad defense this goal seems impossible, Obradovic has to make adjustments but for sure this team does not have players that can press the ball and does not have good man to man defenders except Omer Onan. Despite the good schedule (3 home games) that gives them some possibilities, Fenerbahce is not producing good basketball and for sure this is not a unit with the characteristics of other teams which Obradovic led to success in the past.
We have said in previous articles that Panathinaikos has huge problem in creating offense. Defense kept alive the Greens till now, but when you score 61 points against the worst team in the group there is not so much to talk about. Panathinaikos lost a game that can cost the qualification because the Greens are now in need for at least 3-4 wins while having a very tough schedule. Another problem is the rotation. Panathinaikos uses the same players with very few exceptions during every game and also does not have a really good post-up player. The Greens are giving the opportunity to the opponents to dominate the paint in both defensive and offensive end if they have such a presence. The Greens shot again 25 three pointers, showing that there is no variety in the offensive end. Many of those shots were taken under pressure and the only player trying to penetrate was Zach Wright who gave vividness with his energy. One common characteristic in almost any loss of Panathinaikos is the attacking performance of Stephane Lasme. In the four wins of Panathinaikos, Lasme has more than 15 points average while in losses this number drops to 7, 5 points. There are also some questions about Pappas not getting any time on the court, despite being in the first round one of the best players for his team mainly in games like the one against Laboral Kutxa when Panathinaikos is blocked in its offense.