|07 August 2013|
|Jonas Valanciunas and Lithuania began their preperation in winning fashion|
While it is unwise to read too much into early August warm-up games, there is no denial that Lithuania, France and F.Y.R. Of Macedonia all made an unequivocal statement of sorts on Tuesday night.
With 29 days remaining to the start of EuroBasket 2013, Lithuania completed a 2-0 sweep of Belgium, France defeated Germany on the road and F.Y.R of Macedonia did likewise against Croatia.
Lithuania cruised to an 86-61 win against Belgium on Monday and then defeated the Lions 66-53 the following night, in Kaunas.
If there was a message that the Baltic side's head coach Jonas Kazlauskas was hoping to send to the rest of medal contenders at EuroBasket 2013 through these two friendly encounters, it was that he is spoiled for choice.
Three of Lithuania's biggest stars, in Linas Kleiza, Jonas Valanciunas and Mantas Kalnietis sat out the Monday game and their team was still firing on all cylinders during long stretches.
Forward/center Donatas Motiejunas scored 19 points (shooting two-for-five from three-point range), grabbed five rebounds and stole three balls.
Fellow big man Ksistof Lavrinovic added 12 points and five rebounds and forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas chipped in with 10 points and four steals for the winners.
Power forward Axel Hervelle and point guard Sam Van Rossom were the two Belgian players to score in double digits, with 14 and 12 points respectively.
On Tuesday, the gutsy Belgians showed that they can learn from their mistakes and correct them swiftly, but still Lithuania put in a powerful defensive display to clinch a 66-53 victory.
This time around it was the turn of Ksistof Lavrinovic and Renaldas Seibutis to sit out and Valanciunas was back in action, paving the way for his team with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Meanwhile Kuzminskas, who emerged from these friendlies as a strong candidate to make Lithuania's 12-man squad for the EuroBasket, led all scorers with 13 points.
For the guests, who were forced into shooting 19-for-51 from the floor, Jonathan Tabu had 12 points and Van Rossom added 11.
It is worth noting however that Belgium played both games in Lithuania without naturalised winger Matthew Lojeski, who will join the team in preparations on 12 August.
France meanwhile travelled to Mannheim and out-gunned their hosts Germany 89-84, behind 18 points from Nicolas Batum and 15 points from Nando De Colo.
In front of a 6,500-strong partizan crowd, Heiko Schaffartzik and Niels Giffey had 13 points apiece for Germany.
|Bo McCalebb impressed immediately for F.Y.R. of Macedonia in their first outting prior to EuroBasket|
"We still have much work to do, as our first half was very good but when they raised their defensive effort in the second we lost our superiority," said France head coach Vincent Collet.
"This means that we must demand more of ourselves to be able to do the same thing in a more difficult environment."
While a five-point differential is hardly cause for celebration in itself, the victory serves as an injection of morale for Les Bleus.
That is because Germany and France will go up against each other in First Round Group A at EuroBasket, and the French can now enter that encounter with the psychological edge over their opponents, especially considering that they won on the road without Tony Parker, who is enjoying a short break in Corsica.
If Lithuania sent out a message and France gained a psychological boost, F.Y.R. of Macedonia did a bit of both on Tuesday, by defeating Croatia 78-74.
Vojdan Stojanovski led the winners with 18 points and Bo McCalebb had 16 points, just three days after joining his teammates in training camp; Ante Tomic and Bojan Bogdanovic finished with 15 points each for Croatia.
F.Y.R. of Macedonia were the surprise package of EuroBasket 2011, as they reached the semi-finals for the first time in their history.
A win against Croatia, a team that on paper has an enviable roster, not only serves as a means to reinforce these players' belief that the success of 2011 can be replicated, but also sends a strong warning towards all their opponents in Slovenia not to underestimate their determination to do it all again.