Giants take the stage, ready to battle for Euroleague title

Giants take the stage, ready to battle for Euroleague title

Giants take the stage, ready to battle for Euroleague title

European basketball’s four giants, CSKA Moscow, Olympiacos, Real Madrid and Barcelona will battle for the top prize over the weekend. Tonight’s winners will advance to the final on May 12. The Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four will be played at the O2 Arena in London. AFP photo

European basketball’s top team will be crowned in London this weekend, as the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four starts on Friday.

CSKA Moscow will meet Olympiacos in a rematch of the last year’s final and Real Madrid takes on Barcelona Regal in the semifinals.

In the first semifinal, CSKA and Olympiacos will meet for the first time after last year’s classic final in Istanbul. Last year, Olympiacos rallied from a 19-point deficit to edge CSKA Moscow 61-62 with a last-second basket in the 2012 final in one of most memorable comebacks ever seen in basketball.

Olympiacos returns to the Final Four with nine of the players that won the title last season – a 10th, Vangelis Mantzaris, is injured. CSKA, on the other hand, is back with a reloaded lineup that includes three former Olympiacos players – Milos Teodosic, Zoran Erceg and Theo Papaloukas, who is in his ninth Final Four, a record since the format was adopted in 1988.

Rematch of final

Stopping CSKA’s experienced point guard duo will be a priority for Olympiacos, as both Papaloukas and Teodosic are former Euroleague MVPs. Teodosic, chosen to the All-Euroleague Second Team this season, offers deep shooting range and creativity, while Papaloukas provides court sense, size and of course, his legendary experience. Teodosic will not have it easy against Reds playmaker Acie Law, who is a known ball hound.

Aaron Jackson will see minutes at point guard and could be CSKA’s main option to guard Olympiacos superstar Vassilis Spanoulis, who was named to the All-Euroleague First Team for the second consecutive season.

The battle in the paint will be the biggest key to this game, as Olympiacos needs to stop Nenad Krstic and Sasha Kaun down low. Victor Khryapa is CSKA’s silent leader, doing it all for the Russian powerhouse at both forwards. Khryapa will not have it easy against Georgios Printezis, who hit the game-winning shot in Istanbul last season. Kyle Hines, Josh Powell, Giorgi Shermadini and Pero Antic make up the rest of the Olympiacos frontcourt.

El Clasico in hoops

The other semifinal offers a basketball version of ‘El Clasico,’ Real Madrid and Barcelona Regal will meet to renew Spain’s greatest rivalry on the basketball court.

The two archrivals are set go to against each other in the top stage of European basketball for the first time since 1996.

Madrid and Barcelona have faced each other more than 200 times over more than seven decades, but this will be just their second matchup in a Final Four environment.

Barcelona faces severe injury problems, with Pete Mickeal out for the season, Nate Jawai having only a small chance to take the court and C.J. Wallace questionable after being sidelined for two weeks.

Madrid relies on scoring aces Rudy Fernandez and Jaycee Carroll to make the difference at the wings. Fernandez, an All-Euroleague First team Selection, offers athleticism, defense, experience and quickness, while Carroll is instant offense off Los Blancos’ bench. Carroll can test his shooting skills against Juan Carlos Navarro, in one of the key matchups in this game. Navarro, a former Euroleague MVP in his seventh Final Four, must use his experience and legendary one-on-one skills to lead his team in a really tough game. Fernandez will not have it easy against Joe Ingles, and athletic youngsters Xavi Rabaseda and Alex Abrines will probably also see playing time against him, too. Llull can use his aggressiveness and explosiveness against four-time Euroleague champion Sarunas Jasikevicius, who arrives to his sixth Final Four ready to do what he does best – win games.