by George Rowland, in Milano / @georgerowland
1. It’s El Clasico, and it’s a Final Four, do you need anything else?
These teams know each other inside out and yet we still can’t distinguish between them. Everytime they play in a win or go home situation it seems to end up going down to the last few minutes. Although Barcelona won the game last weekend by a clear margin, Real were without Felipe Reyes and had Rudy Fernandez ejected. Whatever happens it’s likely to be another twist in a decades long rivalry.
2. It could be Kostas Papanikolaou & Nikola Mirotic’s last Euroleague games
There are very strong rumours about Kostas Papanikolaou and Nikola Mirotic joining the Rockets and Bulls respectively. Both players are former winners of the Euroleague Rising Star trophy and look to have bright futures in the NBA and both will have a big role to play in this game. Mirotic is likely to be perhaps Real’s most important player, given the likely mismatch he’ll have against two poor defenders in Bostjan Nachbar and Erazem Lorbek. On the other hand K-Pap will have to deal with Rudy Fernandez and will be key for spacing the floor for Barca’s creative guards.
3. Could it be the stage for Alex Abrines to have a breakout game?
Abrines had a huge game against Madrid at the weekend as he scored 20 points in a comprehensive victory. His role has been growing all season and he has firmly established himself in the rotation after his move from Malaga last season. It seems that at every Final Four a young player announces themselves onto the scene with an exclamation mark, could this year be the year of Abrines?
4. With Dontaye Draper out, we’ll be seeing even more Sergio Rodriguez & Sergio Llull
This is no slight on Draper who in his own right has had a fantastic season, but his absence will mean that a bigger load will fall on the shoulders of both Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull. Both Sergios have had arguably had the best Euroleague seasons to date, with Chacho winning MVP and Llull setting some statistical career highs. Draper’s absence along with Jaycee Carroll’s lack of match fitness will mean that Real will need great performances from the Sergio’s.
5. It’s a game between (probably) the two best coaches in Europe right now
While the other tie has the more (in)famous coaches, both Pablo Laso and Xavi Pascual have quietly been building themselves legacies in Madrid and Barcelona. While they only have one Euroleague championship between them (Pascual in 2010) they have been imperious in the ACB and Copa Del Rey and it would be no surprise if the victor of the championship this weekend did not come from this tie.