Lietuvos Rytas seem to have pulled an impossible stunt bouncing back from a horrendous start of the season to a position where a win against Caja Laboral would guarantee the Vilnius side quarterfinal berth. Back-to-back victories against Unicaja and Panathinaikos have sparked a lot of optimism in the eyes many coloring the upcoming do-or-die battle in all-too-bright colors.
Throughout the whole season Lietuvos Rytas has proven time and time again, that they shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but is the rise in form substantial this time or is it yet another time when a hyped-up team will be brought to the ground? To be fair, there should be just as much of skepticism as there are upbeat tunes.
The number of midseason moves made by Lietuvos Rytas, both in and out of the club, would be hard to match for any Euroleague team. The huge in-and-out movement to compensate the mishaps of the start of the season — remember, coach Drazen Anzulović lasted a single official game — had its toll as well, as the new crew needed time to tune their game before a slow but sure recovery which saw the defending Lithuanian champions reach the Top 16.
It has been those situations where Lietuvos Rytas couldn’t put a foot wrong where the team, led by amazing performances from Khalid El-Amin, flourished. And that is what amazes most. For a mediocre team — or at least thought to be such by many — to be a clutch performer is rare. However, it’s usually individual players and strong personalities that decide the game late on and Lietuvos Rytas has had many strong ones – namely Khalid El-Amin and Šarunas Jasikevičius.
Despite winning the last six of eight games in Euroleague, Lietuvos Rytas still haven’t convinced anyone in Europe that they are a competitive team, which can put up a challenge no matter what the opposition is. With that said, victories against Barcelona at home in Vilnius and Caja Laboral and Panathinaikos on the road been massive upsets, but yet, even despite such a spectacular run — which probably looks more impressive in paper than in reality — the Lithuanian side has had a slip here and a slip up there. Losses to Unicaja and Žalgiris in the Lithuanian Cup spring to mind as examples of rather poor performances, which have perhaps shaded how remarkable the mid-season turnaround was and how much coach Aleksandr Trifunović has got to do with the breakthrough.
Turning a lost season around was a huge achievement in itself, but true class isn’t just playing well. Consistency is the magic word. And it’s the word that you couldn’t currently link with Lietuvos Rytas. The next step for Aleskandr Trifunović is to add it to his team’s lexicon. Not an easy task, but if the side from Vilnius wants to prove their point, the best place to start is on Thursday against Caja Laboral. In fact, it’s the only place to start…