By: Nick Gibson & Rob Scott
With only one game left to determine who will go forward and who will join the 75%, we each identify five players who need to show up so their teams can move on.
5. The kinetic beauty of Khimki’s offense is rendered meaningless and ultimately inefficient when they lose patience and start making bad decisions. It’s one reason why they’ve struggled in close games (just don’t tell Sam I finally agree with him), and the only player with the power to steady the O’s ebbs and flows during high-pressure situations is Zoran Planinic. The big Croatian guard didn’t even get up a shot in last week’s loss to Caja Laboral and Khimki turned it over 17 times, reaffirming the notion that being unselfish isn’t always the best way to promote offensive rhythm.
4. Devin Smith started the Top 16 a collective 0-of-13 from three as Maccabi got off to a 1-2 start. Smith has turned things around sharply in the last six, however, going 18-of-32 (56 percent) in six wins and putting Maccabi in position t0 advance. With Pete Mickeal out for the season and Barcelona locked into the top spot of Group F, Smith might find that tough defensive shell a little easier to crack than the last time these two met. Maccabi lost that one 82-77 and Smith scored just 11 on 5-of-13 from the field. That was seven games ago.
3. The Reds can twist their defensive front into several different looks thanks to the versatility of Kostas Papanikolaou, Kyle Hines and Georgios Printezis, but none of them have the size to completely neutralize Paul Davis. He’s tall enough to pass over those three, too quick for Josh Powell to guard at the elbow and too strong for Giorgi Shermadini to push off the block. After fouling out five times in the regular season, Davis hasn’t reached the limit once in the Top 16, which is a plus considering how much more dangerous Khimki is with their center on the court. Let him play 30, Rimas.
2. Khimki outrebounded Olympiacos 41-28 in their last meeting and still couldn’t beat the Reds, who only turned it over three times and won 87-82. The defending champs shouldn’t count on such good fortune with a playoff spot on the line, and the onus to mobilize the rebounding unit will be on Georgios Printezis, who played just 12 minutes in that earlier loss to Khimki. And even more than keeping athletic forwards Sergey Monya and James Augustine off the boards, Printezis has the agility–in theory–to react to Khimki’s endless cuts through the lane. Cram the lanes. Crash the glass. Advance.
1. The optimism in Siena has faded, and all that remains is a battered bunch who’ve lost four in a row and retain very little hope of moving forward. Hold on, though; isn’t that sort of…how…the season started? Well, almost. Siena lost its first three back in Autumn before Bobby Brown went off for 34, 27 and 21 in the next three, Mens Sana got back to .500 and gained steam for a Top 16 push. Nobody doubts this team’s defensive flaws, and an ankle injury to Daniel Hackett threatens the guard’s status for this week’s run with an offensively stuffed Caja Laboral team, but if Bobby Brown has one more of these in him, it might not matter.
5. Over in the other group, playoff seedings are all to play for. Efes’ Pythagorean expected winning % for the whole competition is a meagre 37.7% on the road, whilst it goes up to 71.1% at home. So if they want to make it to London, it looks like home court advantage is a must. They need to beat Real Madrid to get second seed. Jamon Lucas is their best player, perimeter defense is huge against Real Madrid, he plays on the perimeter and is good at defense, ergo he is very important.
4. Olympiacos hosts Khimki needing a big defensive effort from its front court to stop Paul Davis and Kresimir Loncar picking them apart from high and low post alike. As always, any excuse to talk about Kyle Hines on the internet is good enough for me. Net on/off court stats show The Reds are better on both sides of the ball with him on the floor than off it. Who would have thought?
3. Maccabi could still make it in with a loss, but win at Palau Blaugrana and it’s home court advantage in the playoffs, with no need to get into advanced calculus. Even with nothing to play for, Ante Tomic and Nate Jawai are going to be difficult to contain. We know what we’re getting from Shawn James, so a great game from Darko Planinic becomes even more vital, as Maccabi’s only other true five.
2. Khimki will be eliminated straight up with a loss in Piraeus. All the more important that Zoran Planinic puts up more than the two points he scored in last week’s loss to Caja Laboral. The assists are nice, but Zoran needs to rediscover the other side of his game, that made him an MVP candidate in the first half of the season.
1. Caja Laboral need to beat Siena and then hope other results go their way. It’s difficult not to notice that Omar Cook has slipped into the starting point guard spot lately. It’s no knock on Thomas Heurtel, but this is a long season and the experience and sure hand that Cook brings to the team is exactly what is needed in tandem with the young Frenchman’s élan. Another 11 assists would definitely come in handy.