Top 16, Round 5: All eyes on championship game rematch
The Top 16 races begin coming into sharper focus during Round 5, in which three undefeated teams can solidify their good standing while several other teams need to end losing streaks. The marquee matchup is not for discussion as reigning champion Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv hosts Real Madrid, the team it beat for the trophy last spring in the first overtime game to crown a European champion since 1969. Their newest face-to-face meeting highlights five games on Thursday, while Top 16 Round 5 finishes with a bang, three simultaneous tipoffs on Friday!
In a highly anticipated rematch of last season's Turkish Airlines Euroleague Championship Game, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv (3-1) hosts Real Madrid (4-0) on Thursday. It is also a battle for group supremacy between second-place Maccabi and undefeated Madrid, the most dominant team in the Top 16 so far, with four victories by an average of 16.75 points. Los Blancos rank second among Top 16 teams in scoring average, with 83.5 points, and first in assists, with 22.5 per game. Maccabi has won six of its last seven games and enters this showdown on a three-game winning streak. Its defense has not allowed more than 68 points in that span. Madrid was victorious in its last two trips to Tel Aviv, including a 76-77 thriller in last year's Top 16. Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade (0-4) hosts Alba Berlin (2-2) for the first time ever in an official game on Thursday. Zvezda is hoping to reward its army of faithful fans with a first-ever Top 16 victory and join the playoff race with a win against the Berliners, who are enjoying their best-ever Top 16 start. The game will also feature the two Euroleague players with highest performance index ratings since the start of the season, Zvezda's Boban Marjanovic and ALBA's Jamel McLean. Panathinaikos Athens (2-2) and Galatasaray Liv Hospital Istanbul (2-2) will also meet for the first time ever when they square off in the Greek capital on Friday. The Greens have won six of seven at home this season, and those victories have come with an average margin of 15.5 points. Galatasaray's lone away win this season came two weeks ago in Belgrade, on one of the toughest away courts on the continent, and coach Ergin Ataman's men hope to repeat that in front of the equally intimidating Panathnaikos fans in Olympic Sports Center Athens. In another high-profile showdown on Friday, former Euroleague champions FC Barcelona (2-2) and Zalgiris Kaunas (1-3) meet in Palau Blaugrana. Barcelona has won 16 of 17 all-time games against Zalgiris, including 11 in a row. The lone victory of the reigning Lithuanian champs came in 2004, a 98-102 decision in Barcelona. It is also a strength-vs-strength matchup, as Barcelona ranks third in scoring with 83.6 points per game, while Zalgiris defense allows 71.4 points per night, second-lowest overall, and holds opponents to a league-best 29.4% three-point shooting.
In an all-Russian showdown that opens Round 4 action, CSKA Moscow (4-0) puts its perfect record on the line when it hosts Nizhny Novgorod (2-2) for their first Euroleague meeting ever. The last time these two played, in a VTB United League clash in December, CSKA dominated on the road for a crushing 59-84 win. CSKA's best scoring offense averages an astounding 90.5 points in the Top 16, while Nando De Colo leads individual scorers in this phase with 19.2 points per game. This game will feature a clash of point guards who both broke the Top 16 assist record on consecutive days last week. CSKA's Milos Teodosic did so first, with 14 assists on Thursday, while Taylor Rochestie of Nizhny bested that mark with 15 assists a day later. Rochestie is also Euroleague's top scorer (19.3 ppg), and runs an offense that is coming off its most productive display of the season, a 109-90 blowout against Anadolu Efes. In Game of the Week, Anadolu Efes Istanbul (2-2) hosts Olympiacos Piraeus (4-0) as the host head coach, Dusan Ivkovic, faces the club he led to two Euroleague titles for the first time since the last of them, in 2012. Few, if any, teams around the continent have met as many times as these two since then. Efes and Olympiacos played each other 11 times in the past three seasons, including a memorable playoff series that Olympiacos won in maximum five games before going on to lift the 2012-13 Euroleague title, as well. Olympiacos travels to Istanbul with the competition's best defense, holding opponents to 62.7 points per Top 16 game. Much is at stake for both teams when Laboral Kutxa Vitoria (1-3) welcomes EA7 Emporio Armani Milan (1-3) to Spain. The winner will get into the thick of the playoff race, while the losing side will be left with a long climb. Laboral enters the game as the best offensive rebounding team in the Top 16, at 15.7 per game, while Milan is the best at taking care of the ball, with only 9.8 turnovers per game. The two clubs met in the Top 16 last season, with EA7 Milan sweeping the series. Action in Group F concludes on Friday when winless Unicaja Malaga (0-4) welcomes Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul (2-2) which has won four road games in a row and six of seven this season. Unicaja has lost 10 of its last 11 games, including three in a row at home. The same teams split home wins in the Top 16 last season.
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