|16 April 2013|
BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Nenad Krstic has been CSKA's most efficient player this Euroleague season with an average performance index rating of 17.6 |
Dusan Ivkovic has only the best memories from his five-year long stay in Moscow during the last decade, at the helm first of CSKA and later Dynamo.
The Serbia head coach won three Russian league titles, one Eurocup and one Russian Cup trophy during that spell with the two clubs of the Russian capital.
He later returned to Olympiacos to conquer his -and the Greek club's- second Turkish Airlines Euroleague title at the expense, ironically, of CSKA in last season's thrilling final.
Ivkovic returned to Moscow last week, to meet with the -now four- Serbian internationals on the Russian champions' team; point guard Milos Teodosic, winger Vladimir Micov, power forward Zoran Erceg and center Nenad Krstic.
"I will leave Moscow very pleased, and I hope that no one of you will get hurt until the end of the season so that we have a good team at the EuroBasket in Slovenia," Ivkovic told his players, according to the Serbian press.
The multi-winning coach was in attendance in the Universal Sports Hall as CSKA registered two comfortable victories over Caja Laboral Vitoria to take a 2-0 lead in their play-off series and make a giant step towards the Euroleague Final Four.
And while his eyes were firmly fixed on the Serbian quartet, he must have been very impressed with CSKA's frontcourt in tandem, just like anyone who has followed the series so far.
Krstic, Russian international Sasha Kaun, who is having the best Euroleague season of his career, and the experienced role player Dmitry Sokolov are the centers for CSKA.
Erceg, who recently returned from injury and is still undergoing physiotherapy, along with one of the best Russian players in the last decade, Viktor Khryapa, and the explosive
Andrey Vorontsevich share the power forward spot.
Out of the eight contenders for a spot in the Final Four in London, the Moscow side is perhaps the one that possesses the frontcourt of the most quality and depth.
Khryapa is the most efficient player in the Euroleague play-offs after the first two games, with an index rating of 21; Kaun is third, with 19; and Krstic is in fifth place, with 18.5 on average.
CSKA's frontcourt players combined for 57 points and 17 rebounds to put the second game of the play-offs beyond Caja Laboral's reach, as they propelled their team to a 90-68 victory.
They had combined for 44 points and 19 rebounds in the first encounter, which ended with an 89-78 win for the Russian team.
Khryapa also dished out five and seven assists, respectively, the same as Teodosic, who leads the team in passing.
|Sasha Kaun is enjoying the best Euroleague season of his career|
The Moscow giants had a dream-team last year, which might not look as impressive and omnipotent now, but in reality has not changed so radically.
The main difference is that coach Ettore Messina returned to the club to take the reins from Jonas Kazlauskas and FIBA Europe Player of the Year for 2012, Andrei Kirilenko, went back to the NBA.
When Erceg was recruited in the off-season, after a fantastic season at EuroChallenge champions Besiktas Milangaz, CSKA fans would be forgiven for thinking that he was not a straight replacement for the highly decorated Russian international.
But he didn't need to be, as Ivkovic and anyone who followed the first two games of CSKA's play-off series with Caja Laboral can testify.
With another new recruit, Sonny Weems, covering the huge gap that Kirilenko left at the small forward spot, Erceg in reality came in to complement an already formidable frontcourt, as a 2.09m forward who is mobile and technically skilled to pull away from the basket and spread the floor.
Kaun has perhaps been the main beneficiary of this approach, as he gets more space in the paint; there are times it seems he can finish with a dunk every time he receives the ball in the low post.
He is tied with Krstic in fourth spot on the top scorers' table in the play-offs, averaging 16 points each over the first two games.
Khryapa meanwhile is the third-leading rebounder in the play-offs, with 8.5 per game, but was the competition leader throughout the Regular Season and the Top 16.
CSKA are facing Caja Laboral in Game 3 of the play-offs in Vitoria on Wednesday and Olympiacos, who are also leading their series 2-0, are travelling to Istanbul to take on Efes on the same night.
On Tuesday, Real Madrid, who also need one more win to punch their ticket to the Final Four, play at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The third clash between Panathinaikos and Barcelona Regal, in the series that, as many predicted, could perhaps prove the closest to call with the two powerhouses tied at 1-1 after the first two games in Spain, also takes place on Tuesday.