The Miles Basketball Minute: 2014 Beko BBL Quarterfinal Playoff Preview Brose Baskets Bamberg-Artland Dragons 3-1

Every season seems to be getting more and more difficult for the Brose Baskets Bamberg to dominate coupled with the vast competiveness that the Beko BBL seems to increase in each season and this season is no exception. Each team guns for Bamberg and the simplicity that Bamberg once had to win games in the past when guys like Kyle Hines, PJ Tucker and Marcus Slaughter were on board has become history as it seems to be getting more and more tough to win games as this season has shown.  Bamberg  finished the season in second place with a record of 28-6 record and is  very commendable, but the way they win has changed. They had stellar back to back wins against Wurzburg and Frankfurt allowing only 49 and 43 points, but then had an interesting span of four games in a row where they really were challenged winning by not more than a combined total of 11 points against Bayreuth, Bremerhaven, Tuebingen and Braunschweig. Mind you these are not playoff teams and with some misfortune which they definitely didn´t have in Bayreuth the club could of lost all games and now have eight loses and be in fourth of fifth place and having some real heat behind them with team sneaking up the rear. Bamberg as always has talent, but that killer instinct and total reliance of each player is simply missing that has been seen in the past. In the first three years where Bamberg was unbreakable the club also never had more than two new players coming in, that changed last season with more players coming and going and really hit its pinnacle this season as guys like Jamar Smith, Rakim Sanders, Novica Velickovic  and Damir Markota came and during the season more new faces came with Elias Harris, D or Fischer and Jared Jordan. Even that is a lot for manager Wolfgang Heyder to digest from his standing place at center court in the entrance to the visitor dressing room in Bamberg. However when push comes to shove, Bamberg is still the defending champion and team to beat and are still the best crunch time team. You can ask any Beko BBL coach who the favorite still is and each will say Bamberg except for maybe Sveislav Pesic. In a basketball town like Bamberg that is known as freak city, there is constant jibber jabber and rumors flying about anything which doesn´t make it easier for coaches and players. However now it is that time of year again where Bamberg shines and plays their best basketball. Despite heavy competition from teams like FC Bayern Munich or Alba Berlin, Bamberg is still the favorite. The only time when one knows that something has changed is when café´s in Bamberg increase their sales in May at times when there should have been Bamberg games being played at home

The Artland Dragons moved up to the Beko BBL in 2003 where some German citizens were bewildered for the first time about the Michael Jordan hype in Germany which wasn´t a certain 6 time champion from North Carolina, but a gregarious, but fierce competitor from Philidelphia with the same name. The only title for the Artland Dragons was under current Bamberg head coach Chris Fleming in 2008 where they beat Ludwigsburg in the cup in Hamburg. Since moving up, playoffs have mostly been a yearly occurrence except for two times during the short Thorsten Leibenath era. However since then, Stefan Koch did it three times and nothing has changed as with a new coach Tyron Mccoy, the Dragons are one of the eight best teams in the Beko BBL again. However one thing that they have never done is beat Bamberg in the playoffs.  The most memorable, but also disappointing was their final appearance in the 2006-2007 season where the team was led by guys like Adam Hess, Darius Hall and Bryan Bailey. Artland surprised Bamberg in game one in Bamberg and seemed like they were a competitive opponent, but then had serious misfortune as Puerto Rican point guard Filiberto Riviera was hurt and missed the rest of the playoffs as Bamberg went on to win their second Beko BBL title. In 2010-2011, Bamberg crawled through the series having massive problems winning in a five game series and in the 2011-2012 season, Bamberg had an easier time as they swept Stefan Koch and co 3-0. The Artland Dragons are back again for a fourth time trying to get by the Brose Baskets Bamberg. It would be an enrichment for the Beko BBL to see a massive upset, but before that happens, it seems like Dragon mascot Toby  would have to transport his lab from Quackenbruck as it seems like during home games he has orchestrated some secret dragon business from the dungeon, but in Bamberg, Artland really has to leave it all on the floor to have any chance to win an dhope Toby is praying from his dungeon in the Artland arena.

The Brose Baskets Bamberg arrive into the playoffs with a  14-3 record since the Allstar break losing to top playoff teams FC Bayern Munich, Alba Berlin and Oldenburg. They had some more close wins, but also blew out teams like Wurzburg and Ludwigsburg. Even without the recent services to top point guard Jared Jordan who missed the last four games, the team registered a 3-1 record and got by without him, but his 10,0ppg and 7,8apg obviously are missed in the offense where without the Hartford native, Bamberg has less options in the playmaking. Since March, the team has played 13 Beko BBL games and their defense has been consistent as they have held opponents to 69 points per game.  Even with the deep and talented roster that Bamberg has, the club is led by Anton Gavel and their strong suit has to be their guard play. Gavel keeps the team together and focused and is leading the team in scoring, would be first in assists with 3,7 if Jordan wasn´t on board as is the teams second best three point shooter. Their guard rotation lives from its versatility of the individual players. Jared Jordan should be the key to the team winning their fifth title in a row. He has less pressure than in Bonn to shine and can be rested more. Jamar Smith has been a consistent performer in the last months after a slow start and can challenge a Gavel for making big shots. John Goldsberry who just might have the biggest heart on the team with his will to always come back after injuries. He is the perfect classic point guard that is one of the teams best defenders once getting 10 steals for Leverkusen as a rookie. German national player Kartsen Tadda rounds out the guard rotation. His defending skills are respected and he is always able to make a shot even if his three point shooting has been suspect this season. At the wing positions, Bamberg has the talented duo of ex NBA player Casey Jacobsen and Rakim Sanders. Jacobsen has won nine titles with Bamberg and belongs to the most professional players in the Beko BBL. Smartness and shooting is his trademark and Rakim Sanders has been one of the more consistent Bamberg players down the stretch as he could challenge a Marcus Slaughter for the best hang time. Five months ago, one may not have believed it, but Bamberg´s sore spot was at the big positions. Bamberg manager Wolfgang Heyder understood this and got D or Fischer and Elias Harris. Fischer has been their staple on defense. Even if you get by the front guards, there is still that big Fish greeting you. The worth of Fischer to the Bamberg defense is indescribable. Harris came from the Los Angeles Lakers and has made a fine transition and his inside out game is difficult to defend. German national player Maik Zirbes isn´t having his best season, but he knows it and is still giving support with 8,5ppg and 3,8rpg. Having the beast in the game can wear down any team quickly. Sharod Ford who was top rebounder three seasons in a row in Italy was injured for a while, but seems as good as old as he produced 14 points and seven rebounds in the last regular season game against Bonn. There isn´t a better 1-2 center defensive punch in the league better than Fischer and Ford.

The Artland Dragons finished the regular season in seventh place with a record of 20-14. They arrive into the playoffs not having played their best basketball winning only two of their last six games. They beat the Mitteldeutscher BC on the last game 89-69. They showed during the regular season that they are capable to beat top teams like FC Bayern Munich and Alba Berlin. The team is led by David Holston who returned back to Quackenbruck. He isn´t as potent like in his first time in the 2011-2012 season, but he is shooting better than then and playing a bit less. A positive note is that the club isn´t as dependent on him as in the past. The club also has Antonio Graves at the guard position who thanks to his European experience had no problems blending into the Beko BBL. He has been up and down, but without his 20 points and eight assists, the team surely wouldn´t have defeated FC Bayern Munich. Back up point guard and German national player Bastian Doreth is the perfect guy to come from the bench as his activeness on both ends of the court are more than commendable. At the wing positions, Mccoy has Brandon Thomas who is one of the more consistent players that is an offensive force and without his 28 points against Vechta and 24 points against Bremerhaven surely would have had problems winning those two nail bitters. It is difficult to say that Chad Toppert has been a disappointment, because his stats are fine in the minutes he is getting and he is shooting over 40% from downtown. Don´t let him get hot as Frankfurt found out in Artland in late January as he hit seven of eight three pointers nailing the door shut on the opponent. The Artland Dragons have a strong four man rotation at the big man positions with Americans Anthony King, Lawrence Hill, Kenny Frease and German Guido Grunheid. Artland knows where to go when they need scoring as the American trio is averaging 31 points and 17 rebounds per game. King is having his best season in Artland as he has improved his scoring in each season and his rebounding of 6,4 is his best with the Dragons. One of the unsung hero´s on the team has been Hill. The ex Stanford star is averaging 11,6ppg and 6,6rpg while shooting an astronomical 49,6% from the parking lot. He has shown in his second season in Europe that he could make the transition from the Israel to German league. He is very dangerous as he can hurt you from inside and out. Kenny Frease has been a reliable role player coming from the bench. His stats and minutes are down from Tuebingen, but he causes the needed energy for the club when he is inserted. The seven German titles and experience are golden for the club when Guido Gruinheid speaks.

If one looks at the two Artland loses this season to the Brose Baskets Bamberg, there seems hope for the Dragons as they lost by only a combined total of nine points. Perhaps this could be the chance of the Artland Dragons to catch Bamberg off guard early in the playoffs and steal one in Bamberg.  However regular season and playoffs is a totally different story. Bamberg has been known to heighten their game as the playoffs move on. Bamberg is known for their experience, routine and continuity. The Artland Dragons have a potent attack and have beaten each of the top four teams. An interesting duel in this series will be down low. This series could be a lot closer than many expect when looking at the stats of the first two games. Both teams shot pretty much even from outside, while Bamberg grabbed only three rebounds more and had one less turnover. Artland will need to have a big series from David Holston. Even if the club isn´t as dependent on him, the club will get a boost mentally if he has the series of his life.  Bamberg has been known to heighten their game as the playoffs move on. The series will be decided down low and the team with the better team basketball which will be Bamberg.

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