Friday, October 05, 2007

Preseason Games to Watch

2008 preseason games to watch

With a solid four straight weeks of quality Olympic qualifying hoops recently completed, we're not feeling the hoops withdrawals quite as much as we normally do this time of year. Still, it's always welcome when training camps open and it's almost time to fire up the League Pass for another season of the world's greatest sport.

First, we get the preseason, which tips off Saturday in Europe. What we find most interesting about October hoops are preseason matchups between NBA teams and European club teams, as well as sneak peeks at highly anticipated league newcomers. Below is a rundown of some notable NBA preseason games: all of the games which will either be played outside North America, against international teams, or televised on ESPN/TNT.

NBA v. Europe notes
Last year, two NBA teams lost to European teams, as Philly fell to FC Barcelona and the Clippers were crushed by CSKA Moscow.

Here are some elements which tend to lead to such upsets:
1. Look for a top Euroleague team, ideally playing a mediocre (or worse) NBA team. Last year, CSKA Moscow was a Euroleague finalist and Barcelona just missed out on the Final 4. CSKA had an extra advantage in that the Clips had played a crappy team (BC Khimki) a couple days earlier, so they were complacent, not realizing how much better CSKA was.

2. NBA teams are more vulnerable early in the preseason, when they've barely had any practice time - the European teams have an advantage in that they start a few weeks earlier.

3. Partisan home crowds help. Sometimes the crowds end up being fairly neutral if it's Pau playing back home in Spain or Tony Parker playing in France, which negates the edge.

See here for Sportingbet's odds to win the Euroleague this season, just to get a gauge of where all the teams stand. These are the 5 teams with the best odds:
-Panathinaikos 23-10
-CSKA Moscow 13-5
-Real Madrid 3-1
-Olympiacos 8-1
-Barcelona 10-1

OK, here we go - The Painted Area's picks for top matchups to watch are indicated by ***. (Also see: Complete NBA preseason schedule)

Sat., Oct. 6: Boston vs. Toronto, Rome (NBA TV, 2:30 ET)
Andrea Bargnani will get all the love, as we'll get a first look at the G-A-P Band Celtics.

Sat., Oct. 6: Minnesota at Efes Pilsen, Istanbul (NBA TV, 5:30 ET)
Possible upset potential, mainly because the T-Wolves should be terrible and will have had just a few practices to try to cobble together a thoroughly revamped roster. And they'll be up against a partisan crowd in Istanbul.

Efes Pilsen is a pretty good Euroleague team (33-1 odds, 9th best), with a nice mix of U.S. college stars (Loren Woods, Drew Nicholas) and top Turkish players (Serkan Erdogan, Cenk Aykol, Keren Gonlum), plus an exceptional coach, David Blatt, who just led Russia to its surprise Eurobasket title.

- Efes Pilsen team page

Sun., Oct. 7: Toronto at Lottomatica Roma, Rome (ESPN2, 12:30 ET)
Should be a Toronto win, as Roma is just a mid-level Euroleague team (80-1 odds, 14th best), and the crowd should be full of Bargnani love.

Roma players to watch include Americans Allan Ray and David Hawkins, 2005 Raptors draftee Roko-Leni Unic, and the immortal 36-year-old Italian veteran Gregor Fucka.

- Lottomatica Roma team page

Tue., Oct. 9: Memphis at Unicaja Malaga (NBA TV, 2:00 ET)
Unicaja made a surprise run to the Euroleague Final Four last year, and they are tied with Efes Pilsen for the 9th best odds to win this year, at 33-1. That said, with *both* Pau and J.C. Navarro on the Grizz, Memphis should get significant support from the crowd.

Unicaja's roster includes former NBA players Jiri Welsch, Marcus Haislip and Daniel Santiago, plus Spanish national team stalwarts Carlos Jimenez, Carlos Cabezas and Berni Rodriguez.

- Unicaja Malaga team page

Wed., Oct. 10: Boston vs. Minnesota, London (ESPN2, 2:30 ET)
It's a shame that KG's first meeting against his old club is in London rather than at Target, where he'll be able to bask in the 30-minute standing ovation that he so richly deserves, but he's normally fun to watch in international situations (he had a lot of fun with the crowd in Tokyo a few years back).

Thu., Oct. 11: Memphis at MMT Estudiantes, Madrid (NBA TV, 12:30 ET)
This should be a Memphis blowout, as MMT Estudiantes is not even in the Euroleague, they finished just 16-18 in the Spanish League last year, so they are pretty mediocre. Mickael Pietrus' brother Florent plays for them.

***Thu., Oct. 11: Toronto at Real Madrid (NBA TV, 3:30 ET)
Maybe some upset potential here, as Real Madrid (3-1 odds, 3rd best) has stocked up on talent for a run at the Euroleague Final Four, which will be held in Madrid next year. And they should have good crowd support, although Calderon and Garbajosa will get some love for the Raps.

Real Madrid's roster includes Americans Louis Bullock, Charles Smith and Venson Hamilton plus top Spanish players like Felipe Reyes (starter on national team), Raul Lopez and Alex Mumbru, and veteran Greek center Lazaros Papadopoulos.

In the Raptors favor, they have so many international players that they certainly won't take Madrid lightly, which is often a problem that NBA teams fall into.

- Real Madrid team page

Thu., Oct. 11: Maccabi Tel Aviv at New York (7 ET)
Maccabi is a solid Eurloeague club (13-1 odds, 7th best) though not nearly as dangerous as they were when they won back-to-back Euroleague titles in 2003-04. Could be an interesting game, as I could see the Knicks taking them lightly.

Maccabi's roster includes Americans Marcus Fizer, Will Bynum, Terence Morris and Vonteego Cummings, plus longtime Euroleague star Nikola Vujcic and NBA draftees Yotam Halperin and Lior Eliyahu. Also, Draft Express projects 19-year-old Omri Casspi as the no. 22 pick in the 2008 draft.

- Maccabi Tel Aviv team page

***Thu., Oct. 11: Panathinaikos at Houston (8:30 ET)
***Sat., Oct. 13: Panathinaikos at San Antonio (8:30 ET)
These are easily the NBA-Euroleague games I'm most interested in watching, as the defending Euroleague champion - and favorite to repeat at 23-10 odds - takes on two of the top teams in the NBA, including a tasty champions matchup in San Antone. Hopefully, NBA TV will pick these games up.

Panathinaikos has a particularly deep backcourt, with top European players such as Dimos Diamintidis, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Sani Becirovic, Milos Vujanic and Vassilis Spanoulis, who is out due to injury, so he won't have to endure a return trip to Texas.

- Panathinaikos team page

Mon., Oct. 15: Zalgiris Kaunas at Golden State (10:30 ET)
Wed., Oct. 17: Zalgiris Kaunas at Toronto (7 ET)
Zalgiris is just a 125-1 shot to win the Euroleague (19th best), so they should have trouble competing on their long road trip across the U.S. Two Americans who are longtime European veterans - Marcus Brown and Tanoka Beard - play for this Lithuanian club, which also has marginal NBA prospect Mantas Kalnietis at the point.

- Zalgiris Kaunas team page

***Wed., Oct. 17: Orlando vs. Cleveland, Shanghai (ESPN2, 8 ET)
Thu., Oct. 18: Orlando vs. Chinese National Team, Macao (NBA TV, 8 ET)
A nice matchup in the NBA China Games, with LeBron against the new-look Magic. Should be interesting to see the reception LeBron gets in China, and to hear Walton ramble on with random trivia and historical notes about Shanghai. Yao and Yi will not be playing for Team China, so that shouldn't be much of a game.

***Thu., Oct. 18: Seattle vs. L.A. Lakers, Bakersfield (TNT, 10 ET)
Easily the NBA preseason game I'm most interested in watching, as Kevin Durant gets to show his stuff vs. Kobe. If P.J. is serious that KD's going to be at the 2, it should be one hell of an intriguing October matchup, at least for a few minutes here and there. And it's always nice to get the Inside The NBA gang back together.

Fri., Oct. 19: Zalgiris Kaunas at Washington (7 ET)
Sat., Oct. 20: Orlando vs. Cleveland, Macao (ESPN2, 12:30 ET)
See above.

Thu., Oct. 25: Utah vs. L.A. Lakers, San Diego (TNT, 10 ET)
Not exactly the most tantalizing matchup, as these teams haven't changed too much from last season.

Fri., Oct. 26: Cleveland at Boston (ESPN, 7:30 ET)
Fri., Oct. 26: Sacramento vs. L.A. Lakers, Las Vegas (ESPN, 10 ET)
Get yourself geared up for the regular season (which starts Tue., Oct. 30) with a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview on the last night of preseason.

SAC v LAL doesn't exactly have the same preseason cache as it did back in the day when Rick Fox fought the Christies with a Burberry-clad Shaq playing peacemaker.


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