Ahead of another classic Euroleague derby against Real Madrid at Piece and Friendship Stadium on Friday night (8/12, 20:00 CET), the “Reds” have proved once again that it’s very difficult for any opponent to beat them, despite the injuries and chemistry issues they have faced so far.
In spite of playing without their leader and captain, Vassilis Spanoulis, since the beginning of the season, the Greek giants are still on top of the standings, having claimed crucial victories both on the road and at home (8-2 record).
Although they can’t play at very high standards for more than 25-27 minutes per game, it’s very difficult for every opponent to beat them, as they always find a way to turn things around.
That said, what are the reasons that enable the three-time Euroleague champions to remain competitive in every game, no matter how talented their opponent is?
The roster’s depth
As we said before, Spanoulis is set to make his season debut against the “Whites”, having missed the beginning of the season, due to an injury that sidelined him for two months.
Certainly, his return to action will make him the reference point in coach Giannis Sfairopoulos’ tactics, however the Greek coach has seen his players play very well on both ends of the floor and cover the 35-year-old combo guard’s gap in the best possible way.
More specifically, Nikola Milutinov has been dominant inside the paint and above the rim (8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game), while co-captain Giorgos Printezis (11.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Janis Strelnieks (9.8 ppg, 48.6% from beyond the arc) and Kostas Papanikolaou (58.3% in two-pointers) have made consistent performances so far, having a leading role as well.
For their part, newcomers Brian Roberts (45.8% in three-pointers) and Jamel McLean (8.4 ppg) play better game after game, following a series of ups and downs last month.
Vangelis Mantzaris offers decent solutions, both defensively and offensively, despite having suffered an injury that prevents him from being at his very best, while Ioannis Papapetrou (six points per game) and Hollis Thompson (8.1 ppg) should stabilise their performance at high levels (especially from beyond the arc, having just 22.2% and 29.2%, respectively), with the latter having great potential as well.
My point is that coach Sfairopoulos has a plethora of versatile guards and forwards that can be productive in more than one positions and that’s why the squad has managed to overcome all obstacles so far.
Everyone knows what to do on the floor
Even though coach Sfairopoulos has been repeatedly accused of having a mediocre and predictable playing style (especially offensively), his biggest accomplishment, during his three-year presence in the team’s bench, has been the roles’ distribution.
With Spanoulis and Printezis as the undisputed leaders, their team-mates act as the supporting cast and know exactly what their role is, both offensively and defensively.
On the one end of the floor, players like Papanikolaou and Papapetrou are great on and off-ball defenders that can cover any gap and destroy their opponents’ plays, making Olympiacos’ defence extremely tough.
Concurrently, on the offensive end, it’s easier for the side to improve its chemistry level and cohesion, as the players quickly adapt to their role and help the team have better ball movement, which creates many open shots from the three-point range as well as “miss-matches” inside the paint.
Consequently, the “Reds” have the opportunity to improve their offensive productivity game after game (averaging 76.2 points per game) and stop relying just on their defensive line to earn victories.
The experience of key players
Since winning the Euroleague title in two straight seasons (2012, 2013), Olympiacos have played many do-or-die games, which have helped them gain plenty of experience on how to be effective when everything is on the line.
As a result, they know that a high level of concentration for 40 minutes will let them turn things around, even if their overall performance is not a decent one.
Players like Spanoulis, Printezis, Papanikolaou and Mantzaris are aware of how difficult the Euroleague season is and, consequently, are able to control their emotions and avoid being affected by the negative results. And the same goes for their team-mates, too.
The crucial victories on the road
Winning all matches at home is almost impossible for every club, so the number of victories on the road will determine whether the respective team will be able to fight for the qualification to the playoffs and the home-court advantage.
Olympiacos have been tremendous until now, having prevailed over Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Israel, the defending champions, Fenerbahce, in Istanbul, Armani in Milan and Valencia in Spain, playing very well in all four of these games.
As a result, their two-game losing streak (defeats to Barcelona and rivals Panathinaikos in the first days of November) didn’t significantly affect them and now want to continue that way (four straight wins so far), despite their difficult schedule until the end of the year.
The Greeks will play against Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow at home, while they will visit Brose Bamberg, Anadolu Efes and Zalgiris Kaunas, so it’s likely they will suffer one or two losses.
The “Reds” have retained their place on top of the standings so far (8-2 record) and another three or four victories in the next five games (meaning their record will be 12-3 or 11-4) will solidify them as one of the favourites to finish within the top four.
On the other hand, the Spaniards (5-5 record) want to put an end to a two-game losing streak and climb higher on the table, yet the significant number of injuries (Gustavo Ayon, Anthony Randolph, Ognjen Kuzmic, Sergio Llull) has made coach Pablo Laso’s effort to work on the club’s chemistry much more difficult.
But, their roster is so deep that it’s likely they will dominate their opponents and shock Olympiacos in front of a sold-out crowd at Piece and Friendship Stadium.
Overall, the “Reds” have raised their level of energy and play very well on both ends of the floor, showing how strong their winning mentality is and proving they are the toughest team in Europe and one of the favourites to go all the way to the end.
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