Greetings, EuroCup fans! E.J. Rowland from Khimki Moscow Region here. We just came off a home win against ratiopharm Ulm. They hit a late three to cut it to one point almost at the buzzer when it was a four-point game. They actually did have a chance to win - we were up by 14 but they came back, started pressing and hit some shots. They did have a chance but we won the game down the stretch. Alexey Shved had a great game: when he gets going, the threes he hits, I cannot say they are necessarily easy shots. He is a tough guy to stop, that's for sure! Alexey is also a good guy, humble, who has a good personality. He is very welcoming and it is great to have him as teammate.
All EuroCup teams had to play back-to-back games against the same opponents over the last two weeks. We also beat Ulm in Germany and again, we didn't succeed on putting that game away earlier, either. Sometimes we have a 10-point lead and have 2 bad minutes in which our opponent gets back in the game. Then we have to lock in again and get a good lead again. From now on, we have to try to put together 40-minute games and even when basketball is a game of runs, we have to be as consistent as possible. We have to find ways to keep other teams from going on big runs, especially when we have the lead. That would be beneficial for us in the future.
So, we move on and have to think about our next EuroCup game, on the road against Lietkabelis. We need one more win to qualify and at the same time, we want to keep our chances to finish first in our Top 16 group. We definitely want to finish first and the first step to doing that is to win in Lithuania, which I know it won't be easy because they want to qualify as well. I am sure everybody in the team is expecting a tough game. It is their first EuroCup season, they are very excited about their good run in the competition and that makes them even more dangerous. They don't really have pressure because it is their first year and already did very well in the competition. They also have a lot of experienced guys and feed off the energy of their fans. In the end, anything can happen. They played really well against us in Khimki. We cannot undervalue their experience and the level of talent that they have. They put together a nice team that plays well together and fit together. They have guys who do their roles and don't care about scoring, but about doing the little things the right way. Again, nobody is expecting it to be easy.
Our group will matchup against Valencia Basket's group in the quarterfinals, and they are already mathematically first, so the second team in our group will go against them without the home-court advantage. Of course, we want to win the next two games and get first place, because home-court advantage is very important in all playoffs series. Every year, Valencia puts together a team ready to go far in the competition. Everybody is looking to them as one of the teams that could win. I don't know if we will see them in the next round or down the road, but you are going to go through a team like that if you want to win the EuroCup.
Bayern Munich is our main opponent in the Top 16. They beat us at their place and have already qualified to the playoffs. We always check if they won or lost, but it is not like we are focusing on the details they do in every game. We check if they won and then try to win our games, too. If we beat Lietkabelis, first place will come down to the last game and probably on points differential if both teams win in Round 5. Honestly, I am expecting them to win every game until we play against them at home.
Last time around, I told you about life in Moscow. Well, I have been here for a few months already. The cold weather is definitely different but Moscow is a great city, better than what I heard. They have everything I need, so I am not complaining at all. As for cold weather, I played in Riga so it is nothing new to me. You have make sure you have everything you need when you go outside. Moscow is a different level of cold than Riga, though. Part of the culture in our club is that people shake hands every morning, or the first time you see them during the day, with a bunch of people. People are warmer than you would expect. You hear a lot of things about Russian people being cold, but you would be surprised that a lot of them are warm, especially once you get to know them.
It looks like two of my former teams, Unicaja and Jerusalem, may advance to the next round. In fact, if we win the group, we may play against Unicaja if they finish second. I am still in touch with a few guys in Jerusalem, people on their staff and stuff like that, and we talk every once in a while. I am not in touch with anyone in Malaga, but I follow both teams to see who is playing well and what is going on with them. Possibly, we will have a chance to play against Malaga depending on how chips fall! Our goal remains the same, winning the EuroCup. This is what I was looking for when I joined Khimki, a team that has the ambition to win and compete for every game that they are playing. Obviously, this team is one of those. That is why I am here and hopefully, I can help do that.
So, on to the next game. Like I said, Lietkabelis will not be an easy opponent so we will need to play our game to the best of our ability. When you overly focus on your opponent, you kind of step away from yourself, from who you are as a team. We have talent, experience and depth. Ok, there are things we have to do to take away things from some of their players. We cannot leave either of the Lavrinovic brothers open, for instance. But there are also many things we have to focus on to be ourselves on the court. I believe that if we play our best game, we will be fine.
If we win, we will battle for first place against Bayern. It is possibly going to be the biggest game of the year until that point and we need our fans to be there for us. It would get us a bit closer to one of our major goals. So, Khimki fans, come out and see some good basketball!