Round 28: Playoffs door still open
With six of the eight playoffs spots already settled, Round 28 looms as a chance for one more team to join in the next phase – Zalgiris Kaunas, for the first time under the current playoffs format – while two other teams – Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul and Olympiacos Piraeus – can assure themselves home-court advantage, as well, although Olympiacos needs help from other results to do so. Four games each on Thursday and Friday wrap up the last double-round week of the regular season, leaving just two rounds to go, but plenty to be decided still, before the playoffs.
Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade vs Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul
Eliminated Zvezda (11-16) will attempt to give its loyal fans something to cheer with the visit of reigning champs Fenerbahce (19-8), which can secure home-court advantage in the playoffs with a road victory. The two teams are very closely matched in rebounding (32.5 rpg vs 32.4) but Fenerbahce shoots the ball with greater accuracy, especially from long range with 41.8% of three-pointers made against just 34.3% for the home team. There will be a warm welcome for ex-Zvezda man Marko Guduric, who had his best game so far in Fenerbahce’s win over Maccabi two days ago with 23 points.
Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv vs Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens
A crunch clash in Tel Aviv between two powerhouses with very different ambitions is set as Maccabi (13-14) attempts to stay in the hunt for a playoffs berth while already-qualified Panathinaikos (16-11) is intent on maintaining its challenge for a top-four finish by gaining a third successive victory. Maccabi will attempt to dominate the boards, averaging a league-high 37 rebounds per game compared to the visiting team's 32.3. But the home team faces a tough test against one of the best defenses in the competition, with Panathinaikos allowing just 76.8 points per game, third-best in the league.
Real Madrid vs Zalgiris Kaunas
The red-hot battle for fourth place, which is currently locked into a four-way tie, will take a major turn with a direct confrontation between two of the teams with 16-11 records. Real Madrid will look to stiffen its defense after allowing 96 points in defeat against Valencia earlier this week, while Zalgiris – which is not yet qualified for the playoffs – heads into a demanding closing schedule that also features games against CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos. After losing 66-87 at home to Madrid earlier in the season, Zalgiris knows that a victory is imperative to clinch its first playoffs participation under the current system.
AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan vs Valencia Basket
Two eliminated teams will play for pride as Milan (9-18) welcomes Valencia (10-17). The two teams are very closely matched in many statistical categories, although Valencia has a better defensive record with 80.4 points per game allowed compared to Milan’s average of 84.1 – the second-highest figure in the competition. Milan has particular difficulties defending three-point shot, with opponents converting 41.7% of attempts from downtown, giving encouragement to a Valencia team which has made 39.8% of its three-point efforts.
Khimki Moscow Region vs CSKA Moscow
A crosstown derby in the Russian capital will see Khimki (16-11) attempt to maintain pace in the race for a top four finish, no doubt hoping that CSKA (22-5) is already in playoffs preparation mode after already securing a first-place finish with Wednesday's victory over Olympiacos. Khimki's playoffs-clinching win at Efes earlier this week was based on a defense which only allowed 24 points in the second half, and that kind of resistance will again be crucial against a CSKA team which ranks among the most potent offenses in EuroLeague history, averaging 89.6 points per game. It's a meeting of the league's top two scorers as Alexey Shved (21.8 ppg) faces Nando De Colo (17.1 ppg).
Brose Bamberg vs Unicaja Malaga
A climb up the standings is the motivation as Brose (10-17) faces Unicaja (11-16), whose playoffs chances may or may not remain by tipoff because they no longer depend solely on the visitors. Brose has been in great form at home in recent weeks, winning four games in a row in Freak City, but Unicaja comes off a morale-boosting victory against fellow Spanish side Barcelona two days earlier, snapping a three-game losing streak. Brose are one of the league’s worst rebounding teams, averaging 31.9 boards per game, so Unicaja (35.3 rpg) will look to control the paint through James Augustine, who has claimed more rebounds than any other player so far this season.
Olympiacos Piraeus vs Anadolu Efes Istanbul
Olympiacos (18-9) will seek to bounce back from two straight losses to claim a victory which could be enough for homecourt advantage in the playoffs, depending on other results. Efes has lost six games in a row (6-21) and needs to win its remaining games to have any chance of avoiding a last-place finish. Former Olympiacos man Bryant Dunston, who averages 5.7 rebounds per game) will give his team a strong inside presence and his battle with Nikola Milutinov (5.3 rpg) promises plenty of big collisions. Efes had mixed fortunes on offense in its last game against Khimki, scoring 29 points in the first quarter but only 24 in the second half, and will need to be at its best for 40 minutes on this occasion.
FC Barcelona Lassa vs Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz
The double-week closes with a Spanish derby which carries huge significance for a Baskonia (14-13) team gunning to protect its current position in the top half of the standings. Host Barcelona (9-18) has no chance to advance, but presents a major offensive threat after scoring 88, 90 and 91 points in its last three games. Baskonia is no slouch in that department, winning its last four games by averaging 88.8 points per game. The Round 14 meeting in Vitoria, taken 85-82 by Baskonia, was one of the best games of the season and another high-scoring shoot-out could be on the cards on Friday night.