Lebanon set to bounce back strong against Kazakhstan
BEIRUT (FIBA Asia Cup 2017) - Two days after a close defeat to New Zealand, Lebanon are certainly raring to bounce back big time against Central Asia champions Kazakhstan.
Lebanon were in a good position to win against the Kiwis two nights ago, but key misses and a few errors in the endgame cost them dearly. For sure they are not planning on giving Kazakhstan a chance in this encounter, so it is reasonable to expect the Cedars to come out guns blazing to notch a statement win. That may be easier said than done, however, especially with the Kazakhs showing flashes of brilliance in their first two assignments. If their offense finds its rhythm here, we may have a hotly contested game.
Key Matchup: The frontline of Ali Haidar, Bassel Bawji and Norvel Pelle has been nothing short of awesome for Lebanon. Haidar and Bawji may not be the biggest guys out there, but they have shown terrific versatility and a lot of grit. Haidar is one of the tournament's best stretch 4s and is among the leaders in blocked shots, while Bawji has been one of the competition's best rebounders. Pelle, for his part, has been a great complement to Lebanon's guards with his ability to jump out of the gym for those alley-oops. Kazakhstan will try to counter them with veterans Mikhail Yevstigneyev and Anton Ponomarev, who are bigger and bulkier than their Lebanese foes. Yevstigneyev is Kazakhstan's current leading scorer, while Ponomarev is potentially their most versatile offensive threat. The latter has yet to show his true potential, though, but if he can wax hot here, Kazakhstan may be in a position for a monumental upset.
Key Stat: Ball movement and playmaking will be key in this one. Kazakhstan are among the bottom four teams when it comes to assists, and that has really hampered their offense. They have to make a better effort at moving the ball around to find open men and better shots, especially against a Lebanese quintet that are sure to be motivated and confident. The Cedars, meanwhile, are among the top four teams in terms of assists, and if they continue to focus on efficient team play, they should close out group play with their second win.