Nando De Colo’s return to his former home, Vassilis Spanoulis’ return to top form and James Feldeine’s return after injury are among the key storylines to watch in Round 22 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season this week.
Over the past couple of years, the EuroLeague’s social media crew has used the hashtag #GameON to promote games in cyberspace. And that’s certainly an apt phrase as we head into the final nine rounds of an incredibly competitive regular season with so much still to play for. At the top of the standings, red-hot CSKA Moscow is getting close to becoming the first team to book a playoff ticket, but behind the Russian giant places 2-6 are incredibly congested with just one win separating five teams.
Positions 7, 8 and 9 are also very closely fought with Khimki Moscow Region on 12 wins, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv with 11 and Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz on 10. And although there’s then a two-game gap, no less than six teams are separated by one win in positions 10-15, with all hoping for a late-season flurry to burst into the playoffs reckoning. There’s still plenty of basketball to be played and therefore lots of potential for teams to see their fortunes take a terrible turn for the worse or enjoy a beautiful boost for the better. You want a competitive league? The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is the place to be.
Feldeine back to haunt Milan?
The competitiveness of the league is further evidenced by the fact that one of the hottest teams right now is placed next-to-last in the standings: AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan. The Italian team has won three of its last four games, including thrilling road victories against Spanish duo Baskonia and FC Barcelona Lassa in which Jordan Theodore and Dairis Bertans scored respective game-winners in the dying seconds.
This week Milan will attempt to continue its renaissance with a trip to face Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, whose coach Dusan Alimpijevic had bad news for his forthcoming opponents: the probable return of James Feldeine after injury. The sharpshooting Feldeine was the key man when Zvezda won in Milan in Round 15, scoring 8 of his game-high 19 points in the final three minutes to secure a narrow 88-91 win for the Serbian champs. And after missing the last couple of games through injury, Feldeine is now ready to return with the aim of wrecking Milan’s ambitions for a fourth win in five games – and giving fresh life to his own team’s playoffs hopes.
Red-hot Beaubois to inflict more Panathinaikos pain?
Speaking of teams with bad memories of specific players, Panathinaikos Athens Superfoods fans won’t be exactly delighted to see Rodrigue Beaubois when the Greens host Baskonia in a game loaded with significance on Thursday. Beaubois scored a thrilling game-winner on the final buzzer when the teams met in Spain in Round 5, giving Coach Pedro Martinez a victory in his debut and ending the Basque side’s winless start to the season to kick-start a campaign which could yet result in a playoff spot.
And Beaubois is heading to Athens full of confidence after an excellent run of form, with last week’s season-high 25 points against Zvezda taking him to five consecutive games scoring in double figures. He has scored at least 2 triples in each of his last four outings, while converting 10 of his 17 attempts (58.8%). And in a game which will be closely watched by at least nine other teams for its major playoff and home-court advantage ramifications, he undoubtedly has the ability to be a difference-maker once again.
Spanoulis building towards big finish?
High-octane clashes between Real Madrid and Olympiacos Piraeus have been a frequent source of excitement in recent Turkish Airlines EuroLeague seasons, with these two giants of European basketball facing off on 12 occasions in the last five years, including two Championship Games (one win apiece). Friday’s meeting in Madrid promises to be just as exciting as their previous clashes, with the outcome potentially decisive in the race for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
A road win for Olympiacos would leave the Reds effectively three games ahead of Madrid considering the head-to-head advantage it would provide, but the phrase ‘a road win’ has been easier to say than achieve for Olympiacos in recent weeks, with Friday’s game preceded by four straight away losses by a total of 79 points. However, a serious cause for confidence within the Reds’ ranks is last week’s performance by Vassilis Spanoulis in the muscle-flexing home win over Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul. Spanoulis scored a season-high 19 points in just 23 minutes on the floor, suggesting he is returning to his best after an injury-disrupted start to the campaign. If Kill Bill really is back, that dismal away record won’t continue for much longer.
De Colo ready to meet old friends
CSKA Moscow star and former EuroLeague MVP Nando De Colo will be touched by nostalgia as his high-flying team travels to Valencia Basket on Thursday night, with the scoring ace set to appear for the very first time as a visiting player in the arena he called home for three seasons. De Colo developed from a young prospect into an outstanding talent during his time with Valencia from 2009 through 2012, winning the EuroCup title in 2010 and seeing his life off the court also undergo a defining moment as he met and married a local girl.
Interestingly, one of Valencia’s greatest nights enjoyed by De Colo came on November 3, 2010, when European giant CSKA Moscow rolled into town and were promptly handed a stunning 82-57 defeat. De Colo actually didn’t have a great game in that famous win for Valencia, which was also his EuroLeague debut, but it will come as no surprise whatsoever to learn that he was 100% (4-of-4) from the free throw line. Some things never change...