Top 16 Round 9
Four of five teams with best Top 16 records face road tests in Round 9, including both group leaders. While those teams focus on making a push for the playoff home-court advantage, several other teams have a last chance to get back into a playoff hunt this week. Action is split over three days, with one game on Wednesday, five more on Thursday, before Round 9 concludes with three games on Friday.
In Round 9 opener on Wednesday, ALBA Berlin (3-5) hosts Zalgiris Kaunas (3-5) in a key matchup for both teams. Both ALBA and Zalgiris need a win to get back into the playoff race. This is their sixth head to head meeting, and host teams won previous five games, each with a double-digit margin. When ALBA last hosted Zalgiris, in the Top 16 two seasons ago, it won 77-55. However, ALBA has lost three of its last four Euroleague games in Berlin this season, and now goes against one of the best defensive teams in the competition, as Zalgiris ranks third for the entire season allowing 72.4 points and hold opponents to league-lowest 29% three-point shooting. In another key matchup and a classic showdown, Panathinaikos Athens (5-3) hosts FC Barcelona (5-3) on Thursday. It is their fourth meeting this season, and Barcelona has won all three games so far. But with teams currently tied in the third place, a win for either of them in this one would solidify its place in the playoff race, and improve its hopes in the race for the playoff home-court advantage. Panathinaikos ranks third, allowing 71.9 points per game in the Top 16, and makes Top 16-best 9.4 three-pointers per night. The Greens have won eight of nine home games this season. The only loss came against Barcelona in Round 10 of the regular season, which was also Barcelona's last road win as it has dropped last three decision away from home. Also on Thursday, Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade (1-7) welcomes Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv (6-2) for the second consecutive season. Maccabi holds 6-1 all-time edge, including last year’s dramatic regular season 76-78 win in Hala Pionir. This time, in Belgrade’s Kombank Arena, Maccabi will try to continue its run of form. The reigning Euroleague champion has won six of its last seven Top 16 games, and holds an impressive 6-2 road record this campaign. Last place Zvezda, on the other hand, hopes to play a role of a spoiler in front of its die-hard fans, as it aims to beat Maccabi for the first time since 1973. Group E action concludes on Friday when Galatasaray Liv Hospital (2-6) faces the group leader Real Madrid (7-1) at home. Two teams met for the first time ever last year in the Top 16, a series Madrid swept, and Los Blancos hope to do the same this season. Galatasaray will have a tough task trying to end its five-game losing streak, going against the team that dominates on both ends of the floor in the Top 16 – Madrid ranks first in assists (21.8) and second in scoring (86.3), while having league-best 10.6 steals, 17.8 turnovers, in addition to allowing second-lowest 71.4 points per game.
On Thursday, Fenerbahnce Ulker Istanbul (6-2) welcomes Nizhny Novgorod (2-6) for the first time ever. Fenerbahce has won their Top 16 Round 2 clash 60-78, which started its current run of six wins in 7 games. Fenerbahce has done so with defense that holds opponents to 73.1 points, but now faces the offensive-minded visitors which rank fourth with 81.4 points per game in the Top 16. Euroleague’s best two scorers this season are set to go one against another, as Taylor Rochestie (19.8 ppg) - who is also Top 16 assists leader (6.9) and runs Nizhny’s offense - goes against Fenerbahce’s guard Andrew Goudelock, who ranks second with 17.0 ppg. Laboral Kutxa Vitoria (4-4) hosts CSKA Moscow (6-2), hoping to build on a momentum from a road win last week. Laboral has been solid at home, winning five of its last six games. It ranks second in offensive rebounding (13.5) and third in scoring (82.5) in the Top 16, but CSKA and its offense rank first in Top 16 in scoring (89.1), three-point accuracy (40.8%) and second in assists (18.8). The visitors will also look to bounce back from a home loss last week, and need a win in a battle for playoff home-court advantage. On Friday, EA7 Emporio Armani Milan will look to keep its playoff hopes alive when it hosts group leader Olympiacos Piareus (7-1). Milan is yet to win at home in the Top 16, but comes into this clash with a big boost of confidence after last week’s big road win in Nizhny behind Round 8 bwin MVP Samardo Samuels, followed by a 50-point victory in the domestic league on Sunday. Olympiacos is the second best three-point shooting team in the Top 16 (9.1 triples, 39.5%), and has Top 16-best defense (70.6 ppg). The Reds look to stay in control of the group with a win, which would also all but mathematically secure their playoff spot. Also on Friday, last place Unicaja Malaga (1-7) welcomes Anadolu Efes Istanbul (4-4). Both sides enter this contest on a two-game losing streak. Unicaja wants to keep its slim playoff hopes alive, while knowing that another loss would all but mathematically eliminate it from playoff contention. Unicaja is the best offensive rebounding team in the competition (13.8) while Efes ranks last in that compartment (7.6). But the visitors have many other weapons. They are one of the most successful three-point shooting teams in the Top 16 - third with 8.9 triples on fourth-best 39.4% accuracy. Efes also takes good care of the ball, ranking third with only 10.6 turnovers, while on defense teams ranks third with 7.4 steals.