Game Center Round 29: Of pride and playoff position
The penultimate week of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season delivers some great games in Round 29, including a high-powered Game of the Week and two crucial clashes in the race for the eighth and final open spot in the playoffs.
First up, red-hot Anadolu Efes Istanbul (16-12) will look to maintain hopes of claiming home-court advantage in the playoffs by gaining a fourth consecutive win when Olympiacos Piraeus (19-9) visits Turkey. Expect a big battle when Efes shoots: the host leads the league in offensive rebounds (12.9 per game), while Olympiacos is top in defensive boards (25.6 per game). Another indication of these teams' physicality is that Efes ranks second in blocked shots (3.43 per game), just ahead of Olympiacos's 3.4 on average.
In Germany, Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul (14-14) needs to defeat host Brose Bamberg (10-18) to keep its playoff qualification hopes in its own hands. To do so, Darussafaka will have to end a seven-game losing streak on the road, while Bamberg is also looking for a turnaround after dropping three straight home games. After pulling in 50 rebounds last week – the third highest single-game tally of all teams this season – Darussafaka will look to repeat that kind of display against a Bamberg team which ranks last in the league in rebounding, with just 31.3 boards per game.
FC Barcelona Lassa (11-17) and Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv (10-18) will play for pride in the knowledge that taking care of the ball is a priority: the Spanish team has committed more turnovers than any other team (14.9 per game), with Maccabi ranked joint third in that category (14.3 per game). Barcelona has committed the lowest number of fouls in the competition (18.3 per game), and that probably won't change against Maccabi, which is ranked next-to-last in foul drawn with an average of 18.8.
Friday's first tip-off comes in Istanbul, where to maintain hopes of claiming home-court advantage in the playoffs, Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (16-12) needs a win on its trip to face Galatasaray Odeabank (10-18). The Turkish team has been a dangerous opponent at Abdi Ipekci recently, winning four of its last five home games. Baskonia ranks third in the league in two-point conversions with an average of 22.3 per game, while Galatasaray prefers shooting from long-range, tying for fourth in three-pointers made (9.0).
Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade (15-13) will know by tip-off against visiting Unics Kazan (7-21) whether victory will be enough to secure a playoffs spot, but in any case the Serbian team will be anxious to end a two-game losing streak. Unics has lost 11 consecutive games and won just twice on the road all season, but did beat Zvezda in a tight game in Round 6. Expect both teams to seek inside dominance: Zvezda ranks last in three-pointers with 6.9 per game, while Unics is ranked 14th with 7.3 on average.
After just falling short in its playoffs bid, Zalgiris Kaunas (13-15) plays its last home game of the season against an EA7 Emporio Armani Milan (7-21) team which has not won on the road since October. Defense has been a particular problem on its travels for Milan, which has conceded at least 90 points in four of its last six away games. After last week matching its highest road scoring tally in 12 years, Zalgiris will seek similar success after scoring no more than 68 points in its last three home games.
Home-court advantage in the playoffs will be on the mind of Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens (17-11) as it welcomes a CSKA Moscow (21-7) team which is still chasing top spot in the standings. The Greens share the EuroLeague's best defensive (73.3 points allowed per game) but will be sorely tested by CSKA's league-leading offense (87.3 per game) on the back of the competition's runaway best true shooting percentage (53.2%) – a category in which Panathinaikos ranks dead last, making just 46% of its shots.
If Panathinaikos and Baskonia both lose, home-court advantage in the playoffs could be secured by Fenerbahce Istanbul (17-11) with a road victory at first-place Real Madrid (21-7). Fenerbahce has lost three of its last four games, while Madrid is looking to extend an 11-game winning run at home. Madrid has a sizeable rebounding advantage (36.5 per game to 32.2 per game), boasts the competition's best assists-to-turnover ratio (172.7%) and has had the fewest number of shots blocked (1.86 per game). But Fenerbahce has a better three-point shooting percentage (39.2% to 37.1%).
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