As I said in my first blog entry, I really thought we had a good group of guys with a lot of experience, guys who have played in the EuroLeague and the EuroCup, who knew how tough each and every game was going to be. We tried to step up and be ready for whoever the opponent was, give our best effort... And so far we have done that. In our last game in Barcelona, we started off pretty good, but they really got us out of our offense and took us out of our rhythm. I think they got the best of us for the most part and that is a good lesson for us. We have to keep playing Milan basketball and not do what the other team wants us to do.
We won six of our opening eight games, losing only against CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid at home. In both games, we had a 15-point lead, but ended up losing. In my opinion, that has been our biggest problem, our Achilles' Heel, as we like to say in America. We just relax every single time we get a big lead and this is something we have to continue to work on as a team. When we get those leads, especially against EuroLeague teams, there is no give up in this competition. All teams are going to continue to play harder and tougher to try to get themselves back in the game. Every time we get a big lead, in every situation, we let it go in two or three minutes. We have to continue to work on that; it is not that you have to go from being up 15 to up 30, but you have to get a bucket here, make a stop there, make a foul so they don't have an easy basket... things like that. Small details can take us from where we are to the next level. We have to continue to work on these things as a team, everybody, not just two or three players, and be on the same page. When we are up by 10, we need to know how to get the lead up to 16, sustain our lead if we are not making a couple of shots by playing good defense... things like that! Once we figure it out, we will be even better than we think we are now.
"We kind of have something for everybody to enjoy watching the game of basketball."
Personally, I don't really like to define myself with a role because I want to go out there and play as hard as I can and do whatever it takes for us to win. Maybe you noticed in a couple of our EuroLeague games that I maybe took two shots but had 8 or 9 rebounds, 2 steals and things like that. I try to help my team change the game, offensively and defensively, and in all situations I am probably one of the team's leaders, too, always coming into the game with a chip on my shoulder, playing hard and trying to set the tone for us in that game. One of the biggest keys to continue to work on as a team is the idea of sacrificing. It is actually my favorite word - to have success, especially as a team, you have to sacrifice, and the more we sacrifice for each other, the more games we will win and the better our situation will be in the EuroLeague.
Mike James won a couple of EuroLeague games for us in the final seconds. In the game against Efes, he was out of his rhythm, but players of his magnitude make that type of play when you need it most. I think that a lot of games that we won were close games, but we have to understand that these games can go either way and there is a reason why we won them; those are one-possession games, Efes and Khimki, but we also won by a small margin against Buducnost. We have to continue to remember who we are as a team and who we are as players. Mike creates a lot not just for himself, but for us as well. We have to play off of him just as much as we can play off each other. In some cases, we have to continue to do more as a team, too, not try to put it on all Mike. The better and better we get, as far as players, rhythm-wise and making plays, everybody can be dangerous on the floor and we won't be easy to guard. Barcelona did the best that they could to get the ball out of Mike's hands. When that situation happens, everybody has to be ready to make a play. The last game was a good lesson for us, see how they defended Mike. They will probably have to defend 'Nedo' [Nemanja Nedovic] when he comes back and see what happens in that situation. We have to continue to learn and do what we do as a team, work hard in practice, which is always our best bet coming into the next game.
"We just relax every single time we get a big lead and this is something we have to continue to work on as a team."
Everybody in Milan is excited about our current run in the EuroLeague. Our hope is that everybody knows this is a different Milan team. In the past, we hadn't had so much success because of chemistry issues and things like that. Right now, everybody kind of knows what his role is and if everybody continues to sacrifice and do what they can do to helps us win games, more and more people will be understanding what Milan basketball is about this year. If that happens, we will get even more support and will get better momentum. Right now, we are in a good moment and we have to continue this way. In a city with two big football teams, basketball can really bring people together. I think we are getting more fans to our games even when we play on the road because of the brand of basketball that we are playing. We play exciting, but also pretty hard-nosed, tough. We kind of have something for everybody to enjoy watching the game of basketball.
Our next game is in Kaunas and it is going to be interesting to see how we come back from a road loss. We had won three in a row on the road and now we have to see how we react after this loss. We will see if we can pull this game off. We have some fans who travel to come to watch us play and it is really great to see these people taking their time to travel and watch us play in different cities throughout Europe. Everybody is pretty excited about it and so am I. You know what? I have never played there before so it is going to be my first experience. I was injured last season and sick when I was in Sassari and they had to play Zalgiris. I heard a lot of stories about how nice the arena is and the atmosphere, but what is most important to me is that going into this game, they haven't won at home yet. I know they are going to give their best to get that first home win against us, for the fans and for their spirit.