Turkish Airlines Euroleague
May 22, 2013
bwin Euroleague Fantasy Challenge
Tel Aviv 2004
Qualifying Rounds 2012
NIKE International Junior Tournament
May the best prevail!
The only European player ever to win both the Euroleague and NCAA titles, Jiri "George" Zidek has been a collaborator with Euroleague.net and Euroleague.TV since the 2006 Final Four was held in his native Czech Republic. Big George, who won the Euroleague with Zalgiris Kaunas in 1999, continues as a color analyst of Euroleague games for Czech TV, not to mention for Euroleague.TV, where he has worked the last three Final Fours. As George returns for the 2011-12 Turkish Airlines Euroleague season, expect more great insights from an ex-champ's point of view!
The playoffs are finally knocking at the door. That means that the eight teams still standing can erase all their records, achievements, big wins or ugly losses until now, because we are starting from scratch! Of course, let’s not forget that four of these teams enter the playoffs holding home-court advantage, the premium for their previous five-month-long effort. Considering the omnipresent devotion of Euroleague fans, what an advantage that should be! It is always hard to pick upsets. Just remember last season, when Siena managed to turn a 48-point blowout into a three-game winning streak to eliminate favored Olympiacos. Or how then-defending champ FC Barcelona Regal, dominant throughout the season and with the Final Four in its home city, had to bow to “do whatever it takes” Panathinaikos, the eventual winner. I am almost certain that we will once again be witnesses to the most intense and physical basketball, especially with the Final Four trip to Istanbul at stake. I love watching series that require three victories against the same opponent in a short span of time. It guarantees that the better team will advance. Regardless of the final score, winning three games in such elite company will not be easy. That’s why coaches and their tactics are sure to come to the forefront. Without a doubt, players will be most attentive to the strategic commands and preparations, but don’t forget that depth and fatigue are factors that the bench generals must consider. As excited we all are, with our adrenalin rising just by speaking about the playoffs, keep in mind that the players are finishing their seventh month of the season! Perseverance, dedication and savvy are among the essential qualities to possess in the playoffs. So are experience and the smarts to exert just the right amount of energy in every game from as many players as possible into the rotation. May the best prevail! A lot has been and will be written about the Xs and Os in each series. Here are some of the initial thoughts that I have when looking at the matchups:
Panathinaikos vs. Maccabi Electra
I have to focus on coaches, defense and fans in this series. A rematch of last year’s final with the same coaches still at the helm and a core of the players as well promises a showdown worthy of a classic Euroleague rivalry. As his former player attest, Panathinaikos head coach Zeljko Obradovic does his best in every practice and game to get the maximum out of every player, and this comes to fruition best in playoff times. Maccabi head coach David Blatt mixes equal proportions of demanding coaching and offensive freedom coming out of a set of rules. Both coaches like to play high-octane, pestering defense all over the court. Panathinaikos has a slight advantage in individual defensive capabilities, with perennial Best Defender Trophy winner Dimitris Diamantidis using his long arms to make life miserable for his opponents. Panathinaikos fully embraced the “defense wins championships” concept last season and I expect them to take their defense again to the line (meaning playing D to the verge of fouling). Maccabi’s defense needs Big Sofo healthy, in prime shape and out of foul trouble as his body can be well utilized as the proverbial last line of defense. The fans – or rather the atmosphere they will create – should be something special. Both clubs traditionally enjoy superb home crowds that always make it so hard to leave with a victory. Standards are set high both in Athens and Tel Aviv, so expect the fans to do just about anything to help push their teams to the Final Four. If you want to see what the Euroleague’s “Devotion” motto is all about, don’t miss this series!
CSKA Moscow vs. Gescrap BB
CSKA, despite its loss against Galatasaray, played the most impressive basketball of all the teams and has the most experienced and deepest roster in competition. The star additions to the roster after a disastrous campaign last season have jelled together extremely well under the tutelage of another grey wolf of European coaching, Jonas Kazlauskas. As long as a team of this quality highlights team goals over individual achievements, it’s tough to devise a strategy to beat it. During the season, very few weaknesses showed in CSKA’s game, and only when Andrei Kirilenko or Viktor Khryapa went down with injuries. A fully healthy and in-focus CSKA should mainly worry about its own game. Nonetheless, the series presents an interesting twist as the opponents from Bilbao are one of the most elusive and potentially dangerous teams. Bilbao can get out to the races in a heartbeat. If its self-confidence gets a boost from offensive production, there is no telling what Bilbao might accomplish. I believe that this is well known to the Muscovites prior to the series and that’s why I would expect them to try to control the tempo of the game at all costs and take absolutely no chances. A slowdown game should favor their size advantage, especially with Nenad Krstic and Kirilenko. Bilbao as a rookie team has nothing to lose and everything to gain. I believe they will try to go for an open court, uptempo game and hope for good performances from its shooters. In any case, having Kostas Vasiliadis as a three-point shooting ace up your sleeve is an intriguing option to have…. If hoping for upsets is your cup of tea, this is your David vs. Goliath series!
Montepaschi Siena vs. Olympiacos Piraeus
I must say I will hate to see either Siena or Olympiacos bid farewell to the competition at this series’ end. Both of these teams have earned a lot of my respect while watching them progress during the season. Siena has navigated through perilous injury straits with calm only to emerge stronger, while Olympiacos took in stride a roster reconstruction of monumental proportions. The similarities don’t end there, either, as on both sides there is a dominant point guard at the helm calling the plays. Yes, the matchup between Bo McCaleb and last month’s Euroleague MVP Vassilis Spanoulis, should turn into a clash of titans at an individual level. However, both are such superb team leaders and winners of the highest caliber that I expect them to distinguish properly when it is time to take responsibility on their shoulders and when to involve their teammates. Remember that Olympiacos head coach Duda Ivkovic takes pride in his teams playing some of the most physical basketball in the Euroleague, while a timeout does not go by when you won’t hear Montepaschi Siena boss Simone Pianigiani reminding his troops to pick it up defensively. With so many gifted athletes and dedicated defenders – such as Shaun Stonerook and David Moss for Siena or Joey Dorsey and Kyle Hines for the Reds – I expect this to be the most physical series of the playoffs. Last year, Siena reversed the home-court advantage on the favored Reds. This year, the roles are reversed as Siena enjoys the home-court advantage should the series go into a fifth game, but I have a hard time labeling them as favorites. The new-look Olympiacos stumbled and looked for its identity early in regular season, got its feet firmly under itself during the Top 16 while making two very good additions in Joey Dorsey and Acie Law. Siena is not willing to accept anything but another trip to the Final Four. Olympiacos is better than ever this season and looking for revenge. If you have bad knees, you might want to skip this series as I expect many plays that will lift you out of your chair!
FC Barcelona Regal vs. Unics Kazan
If the previous series pitched teams that have climbed the ladder, perhaps Barcelona and Unics have taken a slight step down in the team play lately. I am judging solely from their domestic campaigns – Unics in the middle of the pack in the Russian championship, while Barcelona has suffered consecutive losses in the Spanish League – there are a few troubling issues in both camps. Barcelona has a question mark hanging above the head of Chuck Eidson, whose multitalented play makes him hard to be replaced on both sides of the court. He missed much of the Top 16, so his form when he returns will be key. At the same time, I don’t see the same dominance in the frontline, especially in defense and rebounding, that we have been accustomed to in past. Unics, the biggest surprise of the competition, has maybe hit the wall with its short roster that has been severely tested by the number of games and treacherously long road trips from Europe’s eastern corner. Both teams know each other well, since they have already met each other during the regular season twice, with Barcelona victorious both times. With or without Eidson, Barcelona is the favorite in a series that will test the depth of both teams, an area in which Barcelona clearly holds the advantage. Of course, never underestimate the potential power of the experienced guard trio that Unics has to offer in Henry Domercant, Lynn Greer and Terrell Lyday. Barcelona is likely to try to involve its big men early to put pressure on Kazan’s thin frontline and to spread the court for the Euroleague’s all-time leading scorer, Juan Carlos Navarro. It remains to be seen if we will get to see another chapter in the development of young Xavi Rebaseda, who has been opening many eyes across the continent in absence of Eidson. If you favor crafty guards and shooters with unlimited range, don’t miss this series!
JIRI ZIDEK - PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Thursday, March 15, 2012
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There is no tomorrow!
Final Four fever!
Diamantidis defense or Ohayomania
Blood, sweat and tears
May the best prevail!
The end of the Top 16: enjoyable or bitter?
Money time is always at the end
Time for extra urgency
Get ready for dogfights!
Top 16 serving up the highest quality
The Top 16 is open for business!
The Top 16: Hard to separate the favorites, probables and outsiders
Tests of character
Home courts, strategy and baskets
Rockin' on arrival
Rolling to the second half of the regular season
Chemistry and Devotion
It's a guards game now
Ready to see the offenses flow!
Play hard or be humbled
Reason to cheer!
Aito Garcia Reneses