VIDEOS: Pre-game Interview, Erazem Lorbek, Pre-game Interview, Felipe Reyes
Two archrivals are set go to against each other in the top stage of European basketball for the first time since 1996 when Real Madrid takes on archrival FC Barcelona Regal in the second Turkish Airlines Euroleague semifinal at The O2 in London, England, on Friday. Madrid and Barcelona have faced each other more than 200 times over more than seven decades, but this will be just their second matchup in a Final Four environment. Barcelona faces severe injury problems, with Pete Mickeal out for the season, Nate Jawai having only a small chance to take the court and C.J. Wallace questionable after being sidelined for two weeks. Expect a thrilling showdown between two great sporting rivals fighting for a spot in the Euroleague title game.
Madrid relies on scoring aces Rudy Fernandez and Jaycee Carroll to make the difference at the wings. Fernandez, an All-Euroleague First team Selection, offers athleticism, defense, experience and quickness, while Carroll is instant offense off Los Blancos' bench. With Marty Pocius sidelined, starting small forward Carlos Suarez and combo guard Sergio Llull will see extended playing time at the wings. Carroll can test his shooting skills against Juan Carlos Navarro, in one of the key matchups in this game. Navarro, a former Euroleague MVP in his seventh Final Four, must use his experience and legendary one-on-one skills to lead his team in a really tough game. Fernandez will not have it easy against Joe Ingles, and athletic youngsters Xavi Rabaseda and Alex Abrines will probably also see playing time against him, too. Llull can use his aggressiveness and explosiveness against four-time Euroleague champion Sarunas Jasikevicius, who arrives to his sixth Final Four ready to do what he does best – win games. The point guard battle will be equally interesting, as Marcelinho Huertas and Victor Sada must try to control the game tempo, thus allowing Barcelona to display its five-on-five offense. On the other hand, Llull, Sergio Rodriguez and Dontaye Draper must try to speed up the game tempo so Madrid can display its run-and-gun style. Controlling the boards will arguably be the biggest key to this game, as Madrid can only run if it locks the defensive rebound. Madrid needs Mirza Begic, Marcus Slaughter, Rafael Hettsheimeir and especially Felipe Reyes, born from big game like this, to box out and allow Madrid to run the floor as much as possible. Nikola Mirotic – one of the three former Euroleague Rising Star award winners in this game and an All-Euroleague Second Team selection this season – brings size, versatility, deep shooting range and simply outstanding talent. If Jawai remains sidelined and Wallace sees limited playing time, Ante Tomic and Erazem Lorbek will see most of the playing time around the baskets. Tomic, a former Madrid player chosen to the All-Euroleague First Team this season, provides post moves, mid-range jumpers and much-needed defensive rebounds. Lorbek can open the floor with his outside shots, score in many ways and use his experience to take care of small details. Marko Todorovic, one of the best per-minute shot blockers in the competition, may see more playing time off the bench, too.
Controlling the boards is critical for both teams in this game. Madrid needs to run to get Llull, Fernandez and Carroll involved on offense, Barcelona can use offensive rebounds to slow down the game tempo. Barcelona has more Final Four experience, especially due to Navarro, Jasikevicius and Lorbek, but both teams know each other very well and there will be few surprises. Get ready for an outstanding game at the O2!