Top 16 Round 13:
It’s the penultimate week of Top 16 basketball, and it holds a possibility it will provide us with names of the teams that will grab the remaining three playoff spots. Five games on Thursday feature El Classico between the arch-rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, while among three games on Friday we will witness a matchup of two powerhouses with CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos Piraeus squaring off in the Russian capital.
With first place in Group E on the line, FC Barcelona (9-3) hosts arch-rival Real Madrid (10-2) on Thursday. Both teams secured playoff home-court advantage last week, but Barcelona needs a win by more than 24 points in this El Classico to take control of the group, since Madrid won their first meeting this season 97-73. However, since that loss Barcelona has won six games in a row, and has not lost at home in the Top 16. Now, it faces a team it knows best. Madrid leads the Top 16 with 22.1 assists, and ranks second in scoring (87.1), but also does the work on the defensive end ranking first in steals (9.4), and second in points allowed (72.0). A key matchup in the playoff race will be played in Athens where Panathinaikos Athens (7-5) hosts ALBA Berlin (6-6). Panathinaikos has won their game in Berlin 59-65 and with a win in this contest the Greens would sweep ALBA and punch their playoff ticket. The hosts have been excellent from the perimeter in the Top 16, ranking second with 9.2 triples per game and third in three-point accuracy (38.1%). Last week Panathinaikos hit 13 shots from long range. ALBA does well in that compartment on the road, holding teams to only 33.3% three-point shooting. But in order to win, ALBA will need to take care of the ball, as it is the worst in the Top 16 with 16.5 turnovers per night. The reigning champion Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv (7-5) welcomes Galatasaray Liv Hospital Istanbul (2-10) knowing it can qualify for the playoffs with a win and a loss by ALBA. Many things go into Maccabi's favor in this game, and a lot will start with its defense. Maccabi leads the Top 16 in blocks (4.7), and it has been rock solid defensively on home floor, where it allows only 71.5 points per game. Maccabi is 3-0 all-time against Galatasaray, record that includes 94-97 overtime win when teams met earlier in the Top 16 in Istanbul. On Friday, Zalgiris Kaunas (4-8) welcomes Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade (3-9) in a clash of two teams playing for pride. While Zvezda has Euroleague's performance index rating leader Boban Marjanovic (25.5), Zalgiris is the one that won their first meeting in Top 16 Round 6 when it held Zvezda to 0-for-19 three-point shooting. Performances like that have made Zalgiris the best in that category in Euroleague, allowing opponents only 30.9% shooting from long range.
In Round 13 opener, Nizhny Novgorod (3-9) hosts already-eliminated Unicaja Malaga (2-10) on Thursday. Nizhny still has slim chances to advance, needing a win combined with losses from Laboral Kutxa and Anadolu Efes to keep their hopes alive. No team takes better care of the ball than Nizhny, committing only 9.6 turnovers, while it ranks second in three-point accuracy (38.7%) and scores fifth-best 83.0 points at home. And while Unicaja has not won on the road since the season opener against Cedevita Zagreb, group leader Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul (10-2) is on a nine-game road winning streak as it pays visit to Laboral Kutxa Vitoria (5-7) . A win would secure Fenerbahce with a playoff home court advantage, while Laboral needs a win to stay in the playoff race. Fenerbahce has played a phenomenal defense away from home, allowing only 66.8 points per road game, but its big men will have a busy night in Vitora. Laboral has been dominating close to the rims in the Top 16, being the best in total rebounds (40.6) as well as offensive rebounds (13.7), and also third in blocks (4.1). On Friday in clash of two powerhouses and a key game in a battle for the playoff home-court advantage, CSKA Moscow (10-2) hosts Olympiacos Piraeus (9-3). The hosts will secure one of top two spots in the group with victory which would make Olympiacos finish third. Meanwhile, the Reds need a win to sweep CSKA and take control of their own playoff destiny. CSKA leads the Top 16 in scoring (88.6) and three-point shooting for the entire season (9.9 made triples on 41.8% accuracy), but faces Olympiacos which leads the Top 16 by allowing only 71.7 points per game. In other Friday game, Anadolu Efes Istanbul (5-7) plays host to EA7 Emporio Armani Milan (4-8). While Milan is in a must-win situation to keep alive its playoff chances, Efes needs a win to stay in control in that battle for the fourth place. An Efes win combined with a Laboral loss would send Efes into the playoffs. Two teams have played each other in eight of last 10 seasons, and Efes holds 13-4 edge in those games, including last years' win in Abdi Ipekci Arena on a Zoran Planinic near-full-court buzzer-beater for 61-60 Efes victory. Efes also won their game earlier this season in Milan 71-73.
Follow all the action as it happens live on the Euroleague's official twitter account, @Euroleague, on LiveBasketball.tv, on many other television networks around the world and, of course, right here on Euroleague.net!