Madrid tonight will host no ordinary pre-season game. Exhibition? I think not. When Real Madrid welcome the Utah Jazz (ESPN, 7.30), putting on a show will hardly be top most in their minds. Remember Varese, Badalona and Barcelona? Some of the best games in the long tradition of NBA tours of duty on the Old Continent have come when a European club set out to humble a North American counterpart. The odds remain lengthy, sure. But the Spaniards will want their scalp.
"They’re going to play hard," admits Utah forward Carlos Boozer. "They’re getting ready for their championships. We’re getting ready for our season. They’re going to go hard. And we will too. It will be a completely different style of basketball. It’s all so fun for us because we get to face different challenges."
The hosts' preparations have been overshadowed, however, by a rash of injuries, the latest being Spain international Felipe Reyes, who was hurt on Tuesday and will miss four weeks of action - joining centres Darijus Lavrinovic and Tomas Van den Spiegel on the sidelines.
The Madrid Sports Palace, which was also the scene of the 2007 Euroleague Final Four, has also been host to a number of previous meetings between European and NBA teams. The first of those was the 1988 McDonald's Open, when the legendary Boston Celtics outlasted Real Madrid 111-96 in one game.
Almost 20 years later, in 2007, a rare double-header finished NBA Europe Live with Real Madrid beating the Toronto Raptors 104-103 as Sergio Llull starred down the stretch and Louis Bullock poured in 27 points.
"The last time it was me who lost with the Raptors against Madrid, so now it's my turn to win," new Madrid forward Jorge Garbajosa said on Wednesday. "Being Spanish and from Madrid, I had to put up with a few jokes."