he white team, without Llull, will play today in Moscow against the current ULEB champion, who has the ex-Real Madrid player Rimas Kurtinaitis on their bench (5:30 p.m., peninsular time)
Real Madrid faces today another top difficulty game at Moscow’s Basketball Center against the powerful Khimki team. The squad directed by Pablo Laso will have to overcome the important loss of Sergio Llull, who suffered a sprain in the external lateral ligament of his left ankle, in order to take their locker-full of victories on the road and start to get in position as a favorite in the demanding group A after defeating Panathinaikos in the first game.
The Real Madrid players can’t afford to take a break in this group. If they had to take on Panathinaikos in their debut, now taking the road in this Euroleague they’re up against last year’s ULEB champions, another one of the strong teams in the competition, which will try for their first win after losing in Turkey. The Russians have many faces that are well-known in the Spanish League in their ranks, starting with their coach, who used to be a Real Madrid player, Rimas Kurtinaitis, as well as players like Planinic (Caja Laboral), Nielsen (Valencia), ), Augustine (Canarias, Valencia, and Murcia), and the injured Paul Davis (Cajasol).
Madrid comes to the match with the Muscovites with high spirits after their great beginning of the season, where they are unbeaten in official games and lead the Endesa League. However, they won’t have Llull, who injured his left ankle last Wednesday at the training session in the Valle de la Cañas. The white team will have to make up for this important loss of one of the offensive stars of the team from their deep player roster. Carroll, Pocius, Reyes, Rodríguez, Draper, the latter fundamental in turning it around against Panathinaikos with his five steals, should back up the two best Real Madrid scorers so far: Rudy Fernández and Nikola Mirotic, as well as facing the dangerous perimeter with Fridzon, Koponen, and Rivers.
The Balearic player is determined for this to be his Euroleague. The started scoring 23 points against the Greeks in the first quarter. At the Basketball Center, he will again be the one to watch among Laso’s men, not only because of his offensive contribution, but also because of the defense for his game coach, Zoran Planinic. The Croatian, a very uneven player, is capable of great performances like the one against Fenerbahce, which earned him most valued player for the first game of the competition. For his part, Mirotic is already a sure asset for Real Madrid and will lead the way at the hottest moments.
Together with the academy player, the rest of the white team’s inside quartet will face a grueling test on the court. Kurtinaitis’ men have great reach and strength under the hoop, which is one of their strong points. The Croatian Loncar is one of their most dangerous inside men, but Augustine, Zhukanenko, Nielsen, or the versatile Monya, who may act as fourth, can also score and contribute both intensity and experience. Reyes, at the top of his form, after making 18 points and taking 11 rebounds against Mad-Croc Fuenlabrada, and Slaughter’s contribution will be fundamental for overcoming their rival.
Real Madrid’s coach, Pablo Laso, is clear that Khimki, which will participate for the third time in the top European competition, is going to make it rough on them: “They’re the possible upset team of the competition. A very good team and well compensated.” The white team’s captain, Felipe Reyes, believes that their opponent “has a great squad list, with a lot of quality players, so it’s going to be necessary to show a great defensive concentration to achieve victory.”