Intranational opponents TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (2-1) and FC Barcelona (4-1) take each other's temperature again on Friday night. Having lost only one game each so far, one team will solidify its good status while the other will suffer a step back in after this one. Baskonia has played only once in the EuroLeague since October 9, winning against a weakened Khimki Moscow Region, while Barcelona comes off a solid performance to beat archrival Real Madrid.
Baskonia holds the upper hand with an 11-8 mark since these teams began facing each other in the EuroLeague, including the first such meeting, for third place at the 2006 Final Four. Baskonia has been triumphant in eight of their last 10 meetings, too, dating to 2014. Last season they played only once and Baskonia won 76-74 at home as Pierria Henry scored 20 points. It was the first win of coach Dusko Ivanovic's third stint at Baskonia, and it came against a Barca team whose bench he had headed between 2005 and 2008.
Two small forwards who spend most of every game on the floor, Rokas Giedraitis of Baskonia and Cory Higgins of Barca, will be barometers for their teams in this game. Giedraitis has averaged 19.3 points and 4.0 rebounds over three games while playing an average of 32:33 minutes. Higgins, a two-time EuroLeague champion, is on 12.4 points and 3.0 assists per game. Both are light on their feet and speedy, and while Higgins gives up 5 centimeters to Giedraitis, he brings a lot of experience to the task of out-performing his rival.
Keys to victory: Barca
The visitors are hoping to get back team leader Nikola Mirotic for this game, but they also won three games without him with players like Rolands Smits and Sergi Martinez stepping up at the same power forward position. All who play will be valuable against a Baskonia team that likes to attack the basket, preferably on the run. In particular, their rebounding, along with that of center Brandon Davies, will be key if Barca is going to dictate tempo on the road, which would go a long way to bringing home a victory.
Keys to victory: Baskonia
The hosts have the second-ranked defense, with opponents averaging just 71.0 points per game, and therein lies the road to victory against a talented Barcelona team. Rebounding, stealing and running are part of the recipe for Baskonia to get easy baskets and keep the visitors guessing. Pierria Henry's league-leading assist-to-turnover ratio (9.5 to 1) is also key to Baskonia getting an opportunity out of every offense. His defense on the ball is just as important to slow down Nick Calathes before the Barca offense can get into a rhythm.