On the heels of another disappointment at the hands of Real Madrid, Barcelona tip off their 2022-23 domestic league campaign Friday night (8:30pm UK) in the Canary Islands, against a solid Gran Canaria side.
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Last week, Barcelona rolled into the Final Four-style Supercopa de España tournament in Sevilla. When they left, it was likely in the throes of a frustrating deja vu. After all, it’s easy to see how the entire experience will have felt like a microcosm of Barça’s 2021-22 season. On Day 1 in Sevilla, Barça took comfortably handled fellow Catalan side Joventut Badalona, 91-74, and cruised into the final. Waiting for them there, of course, was their “eternal rival”, Real Madrid. And, of course, the final was a back-and-forth contest, in which the sides traded dominant quarters (Barcelona won the second 22-12, Madrid won the third 26-12), and Barcelona had to battle back from a six-point deficit to force overtime. Unfortunately for the Blaugrana, as has been the case all too often in recent months, it was Los Blancos who had a little extra left in the tank, and pulled away in a high-scoring overtime period (18-12), and secured an 89-83 win.
This cuts to the core of what it is about the 2021-22 season that will forever be shrouded in disappointment. In a season in which Barça posted the best regular season record in each of the top two competitions in which they took part (Liga ACB and the EuroLeague), what will live long in the memory is not only that the only silverware those efforts yielded was the Copa del Rey (at least beating Madrid in the final), but that, in the Supercopa before the season, they fell to Real Madrid by five. Then falling to Madrid by three points in the EuroLeague Final Four in Belgrade. And then falling to them in four games in the best-of-five Liga ACB playoff finals. And now this. It’s the falling short, sure. But it’s the falling short against them that really stings.
There is encouragement to be found in some of the excellent performances that head coach Šarūnas Jasikevičius’s side got. Nico Laprovíttola was outstanding, with 12 points and 14 assists. Center Sertaç Şanlı has 21 points and 5 rebounds. Newcomer, and 2022 Adriatic League MVP, Nikola Kalinić had seven rebounds. Lithuanian guard Rokas Jokubaitis contributed 11 points. Frustrating though it invariably was, there is no shame in the shame in the defeat.
That being said, it’s tough to imagine that that result, combined with the travel back to Barcelona, only to turn around and take another flight, this one three-and-a-half hours, to the Canary Islands, won’t ding this team’s enthusiasm, season opener or not.
Their hosts for that season opener, Gran Canaria, are a solid, mid-table side coming off of a solid campaign. They qualified for the Liga ACB playoffs as the #8, which earned them a matchup against this very Barça side. Though the two-of-three showdown ended after just two games, Gran Canaria rebounded impressively from an 11-point defeat in Catalonia, put up an excellent fight at home, and only lost because Barça mounted a fourth quarter rally to overturn a deficit.
Given the turnover in the Barça team (though not crazy, also not insignificant), the massive injury to reigning EuroLeague MVP Nikola Mirotić with which they’re dealing, and the time and energy they’ve had to dedicate to quick turnaround travel in the past week, it wouldn’t be shocking if Barça came out of the gates a bit out of sorts. That said, given their quality, it’s unlikely to spell defeat, but could make covering an 8.5-/9.5-point spread a dicey proposition.