After a series of mediocre performances that led to the creation of a three-game losing streak, for the first time since 2010, the defending champions need to return to the winning track in order to secure the first place in the regular season.
Without a doubt, CSKA Moscow has a very talented and deep team. With players that can be effective in more than one positions on the floor, the Muscovites have showed they can beat every opponent, being one of the favourites to win the title for the second time in a row.
The “Bear” made a tremendous start to the season and managed to earn a significant advantage over their opponents in the standings.
Thanks to a 12-1 record in the first 13 matches, the Russians showed that, one way or another, they would finish first at the end of the regular season and (would) be in a position of power over their opponents in the playoffs.
In addition, coach Dimitris Itoudis had the opportunity to make some changes to the rotation and let some of his key players get some rest in order to be 100% ready later in the season, when everything will be on the line.
Due to Milos Teodosic’s and Nando De Colo’s injuries, though, the Greek coach had to readjust his plans and redistribute the roles in the team in order for the club to keep on winning.
Although they managed to prevail over their opponents, despite the two superstars’ absence (who missed two and seven matches, respectively), the defending champions couldn’t continue the same way and the last three games revealed their weaknesses.
The Russians certainly are very talented both inside the paint and in the back-court line, with players (like Aaron Jackson, Cory Higgins, James Augustine, Andrey Vorontsevich and Kyle Hines) that are capable of making the difference in every game.
However, they seem to depend a lot on the great form of De Colo (19 points per game, 50% from beyond the arc) and Teodosic (17.4 points and 7.6 assists per game, in 30 minutes of action), a situation that can be both a blessing and a curse for the club, especially during the playoffs and the Final Four.
In spite of the two guards’ impressive performances so far, what is vital for the squad is to prove they can still be productive on both ends of the floor when the two leaders don’t play at high standards.
During their three-game losing streak, what was clear was that when the Muscovites didn’t have control of the game and the momentum wasn’t on their side, then things were difficult for them.
Especially against Crvena Zvezda and Real Madrid (as the match against Fenerbahce was decided in the overtime), Itoudis and his players saw their tactics be ineffective, especially defensively (conceding 78 and 95 points, respectively).
It’s also worth mentioning that the team faces many problems every time Hines isn’t on the floor, as the presence of the three-time Euroleague champion is crucial for the squad’s defensive stability, thanks to his speed and his impressive ability to act as a rim protector.
Concurrently, on the other end of the floor, their playing style often becomes predictable, especially when there is no quick and good ball movement (which is one of their key elements this season).
Consequently, they have been forced to either shoot the ball from beyond the arc (missing most of those shots, though) or make many turnovers (with Teodosic having made 20 in total in the last three games).
So, the aforementioned elements have prevented the club from being competitive for 40 minutes and have led to that three-game losing streak that makes the race for the first place tighter. That said, should the Muscovites make drastic changes to their tactics and rotation to turn things around? I think the answer is no.
Although it was rather unexpected to see the “Bear” lose three straight times, Itoudis and his assistants know that a series of mediocre performances is likely to happen, as the clubs have to compete every three or four days.
The Greek coach should now differentiate his plan and raise the intensity again in order to make his players be at their very best and help them create a much-needed winning streak that will let them secure the top spot in the regular season.
With the team not having a difficult schedule until the end of the month (as their next really difficult game is against Fenerbahce in Istanbul on February 2nd), the Russians have the time to make the necessary adjustments, which will enable them to enhance their overall performance, as well as find a way to be equally effective when De Colo, Teodosic and Hines will not be impressive or available to play.