Now, let me tell you one thing, which you might have already heard somewhere – time flies fast, too fast. As much as we have all enjoyed this season, it’s inevitably closing to an end. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Lithuanian basketball went on another roller-coaster ride throughout the season with its ups and downs. Rather usual stuff in this part of the world, I have to say.
Of course, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. There still is one very important unresolved issue – who will get all the silverware in the Lithuanian league. Remember what happened this time last year? Things did get quite noisy…
Anyway, as you all know, the best example of a two-party system in the world is the Lithuanian championship. Like always, a two horse race. All three meeting between Žalgiris and Lietuvos Rytas have gone in favor of the Greens, two in rather confident fashion.
- Žalgiris 85-60 Lietuvos Rytas – November 21, Kaunas.
- Lietuvos Rytas 69-81 Žalgiris – February 13, Alytus.
- Lietuvos Rytas 57-74 Žalgiris – March 26, Vilnius.
However, what’s probably more amazing than this result is that the sides met only three times, compared to six the season before. Add a seven game series, which went down to the wire… You know, food generally tastes better when you’re hungry. That’s exactly the case here.
Picking a winner in the series might look an easy task, but, believe me, it isn’t as easy as it seems. With Martynas Pocius going down with a back injury, things aren’t that clear any more. And, to be fair, Lietuvos Rytas aren’t the same team they were the previous times with a coaching change, Aleksandar Rašić at the point and Brad Newley and Artūras Jomantas finally finding their stride.
Do not get me wrong, Žalgiris are still favorites. Even the current Lietuvos Rytas’ coach Darius Maskoliūnas, who was at the helm of the club from Kaunas in the finals last season before getting fired midway, agrees.
Position by position, Žalgiris seemed to have an advantage – if not in skill, then in depth – Aleksandar Rašič might be the best point guard in the series, but Žalgiris have Mantas Kalnietis and DeJuan Collins to put against him. Do not forget the small Slovenian Alesksandar Čapin as well.
As I’ve mentioned, Martynas Pocius’ injury is a big blow, as Lietuvos Rytas gain a rather big advantage on the wings. Martynas Gecevičius is probably the best shooting guard among the two teams and the small forward lineup that Lietuvos Rytas have to offer would be a treat for any team – Simas Jasaitis, Brad Newley and Artūras Jomantas. In Žalgiris, the story is a sadder – Tomas Delininkaitis, Artūras Milaknis, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Marcus Brown, who has arguably been the worst player on this Žalgiris team this season. That’s where Žalgiris will have a lot of problems.
Under the boards, the story is rather different. For Žalgiris, a rather big drop-off in quality after Paulius Jankūnas, Tadas Klimavičius and Travis Watson, but the Greens still have a lot of options to throw at you – Boban Marjanović, Trent Plaisted or even Omar Samhan. While Lietuvos Rytas’ frontline is rather thin with Jonas Valančiūnas being the only credible center and Kenan Bajramović and Milko Bjelica sharing the power forward position. And one thing should also be mentioned – Bjelica has been playing like crap after the Euroleague season ended. No effort whatsoever. I will be happy to see him leave after the season. If Lietuvos Rytas want a distant chance at the Lithuanian trophy, they need to limit the damage down low. That’s their only chance.
Last year my predictions for the final were quite accurate – my heart chose Lietuvos Rytas in six, while the brain argued it was going to take seven games with no clear winner. Ended with Lietuvos Rytas winning in seven.
I do not expect to get this one wrong, but as a guy from Vilnius, I have to say that my heart picks Rytas in seven, while the more logical pick would be Žalgiris in six. To make things more official, my final answer is 4-3, advantage to Rytas. Let’s see how things go… The truth usually lyes somewhere in-between. The first game is on Thursday in Kaunas 19:15 local, so 18:15 CET! Will drop a link of a stream on my twitter feed, so be sure to check out @LithuaniaBasket!