Regular Season Round 23: Into the final stretch!
The action returns following the bye week as the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season heads into the final stretch, with Round 23 showcasing a Game of the Week between two strong title contenders, while several more playoffs hopefuls face virtual do-or-die encounters.
Second-placed CSKA Moscow (16-6) will get the ball in the air in Thursday's home meeting with resurgent Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv (8-14), which has revived its faint playoff ambitions by winning two of its last three games. The venue could prove telling: CSKA has won four straight at home while Maccabi has lost six consecutive road trips. Maccabi has averaged just 71 points in its last three away games and will almost certainly need a lot more than that against a CSKA team which leads the league in scoring, averaging 87.6 points per game.
The Game of the Week could prove pivotal in the race for the top spots in the standings as third-placed Olympiacos Piraeus (16-6) travels to fourth-placed Fenerbahce Istanbul (14-8). The visitors lead the league in rebounding, averaging 37.4 boards per game, while Fenerbahce has the competition's third-best true shooting percentage, exactly 50%. It probably won't be a high-scoring contest, with Olympiacos boasting the league's second-best defensive record by allowing just 73.9 points per game, and Fenerbahce among the lowest scorers with an average of 77.6 points.
After heading into the bye week on the back of two straight losses, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade (12-10) will seek to restore momentum against visiting Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul, which sits joint bottom of the standings at 7-15. But Gala's last game saw the Turkish team finally gain its first road win of the season (62-69 at Barcelona), and Zvezda's previously watertight defense has given up 86 and 102 points in the last two games, making this one a lot tougher to call than it would have been a few weeks ago.
Two teams in desperate need of a win meet in Italy, where EA7 Emporio Armani Milan (7-15) welcomes FC Barcelona Lassa (8-14). Although defeat would not spell mathematical elimination, both teams know victory is imperative and the visitors will need to reverse a run of eight straight road losses. Despite occupying last place in the standings, Milan has the fourth-best offense in the league, with an average of 82.9 points per game, and has won its last three home games by netting 92, 99 and 89 points.
Friday tips off with another crucial game as Anadolu Efes Istanbul (11-11) attempts to maintain its place in the playoff positions at the expense of visiting Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz (12-10), which has lost five of its last six games. Efes is the third-highest scoring team in the competition with an average of 84.2 per game, and also ranks second in steals (7.4 per game), and fourth in both rebounds (36.1 per game) and assists (19 per game). The Spanish team is strong in similar areas, ranked fifth in scoring (80.6 points per game) and third in rebounds (37 per game).
Two teams looking to force their way into the playoffs mix go head to head as Brose Bamberg (8-14) hosts a Zalgiris Kaunas (9-13) team which saw a three-game win streak ended last round. In a game which could come down to details, two factors which may prove crucial are: free-throw shooting, in which Bamberg ranks second and Zalgiris third, converting 81.2% and 81%, respectively; and steals, with these teams claiming the lowest tallies in the competition, Zalgiris with 5.1 per game and Bamberg with 5 per game.
Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens (13-9) will seek to strengthen its push for the playoffs at home to Unics Kazan (7-15), which was a narrow winnerswhen these teams met in Round 15, but has lost its last five games to fade away from playoff contention. Panathinaikos has won 10 of 11 games at home in Athens this season and the last seven straight, mainly thanks to the league's third-best defense, which has allowed just 75.6 points per game. Unics faces a particular challenge on the boards, having claimed the joint lowest number of defensive rebounds in the league (22.2 per game).
And finally, first-placed Real Madrid (17-5) will attempt to extend its winning sequence of eight games – the longest achieved by any team this season – at home to a Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul (11-11) team with everything to play for. The visitors restricted Madrid to its lowest points tally this season in their Round 12 meeting, which Darussafaka won 81-68. It could be a long-range shoot-out, with Madrid tied for second in the league in three-pointers (9.5 per game) while Darussafaka is just behind with an average of 9.4 three-point strikes.
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