Top 16 Round 13: Playoff picture nears completion
The penultimate week of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Top 16 brings with it the possibility that it will provide the names of the teams that will grab the three open playoff spots. Five games on Thursday feature El Clasico between the arch-rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, while three games on Friday include a powerhouse matchup between CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos Piraeus that could well decide which of them has home-court advantage in the next round.
With first place in Group E on the line, FC Barcelona (9-3) hosts arch-rival Real Madrid (10-2) on Thursday in the Game of the Week. Both teams secured playoff home-court advantage last week. Barcelona needs a win by more than 24 points to take control of the group, since Madrid won their earlier Top 16 meeting by 97-73. Since then, Barcelona has won six games in a row and has yet to lose at home in the Top 16. Now, it faces a team it knows best. Madrid leads the Top 16 with 22.1 assists per game and ranks second in scoring (87.1 ppg.), 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 is on tap when Panathinaikos Athens (7-5) hosts ALBA Berlin (6-6). The Greens can qualify with a victory or with a loss of 5 or fewer points if Maccabi were to lose its Thursday game, too. Panathinaikos won their game in Berlin 59-65 and with another win can punch its playoff ticket thanks to a sweep of ALBA. The Greens have been excellent from the perimeter, ranking second in the Top 16 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 defending threes on the road, holding opponents to only 33.3% accuracy from the arc. In order to win, ALBA will need to take care of the ball, as it ranks last in the Top 16 with 16.5 turnovers per night. Still needing to qualify for the playoffs, reigning champion Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv (7-5) receives Galatasaray Liv Hospital Istanbul (2-10) knowing that its own victory and a loss by ALBA will put it in the next round. Maccabi's hopes are likely to start with its defense. Maccabi leads the Top 16 in blocks (4.7 bpg.) and it has been rock-solid defensively on its home floor, allowing just 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 won their first meeting, in Top 16 Round 6, by holding Zvezda to 0-for-19 three-point shooting in Belgrade. Performances like that have made Zalgiris the Euroleague leader in that category, holding opponents to 30.9% shooting from long range.
In Round 13's opener on Thursday, Nizhny Novgorod (3-9) hosts already-eliminated Unicaja Malaga (2-10). Nizhny still has slim chances to advance, needing a win combined with losses from Laboral Kutxa and Anadolu Efes to keep its hopes alive. No Top 16 team takes better care of the ball than Nizhny, which commits just 9.6 turnovers on average, while it ranks second in three-point accuracy (38.7%) and scores the fifth-most points, 83 per game, at home. Unicaja has not won on the road since the season opener against Cedevita Zagreb. Meanwhile, 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 home-court advantage in the playoffs, while Laboral needs the same victory to stay in the playoff race. Fenerbahce has played 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, ranking first in both total (40.6) and offensive rebounds (13.7), while placing third in blocks (4.1). In a key clash between powerhouses over home-court advantage in the playoffs on Friday, CSKA Moscow (10-2) hosts Olympiacos Piraeus (9-3). CSKA will secure one of top two spots in the group with a 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 is the Top 16 scoring leader (88.6) and leads all teams in three-point shooting for the entire season (9.9 made triples on 41.8% accuracy). Olympiacos owns the Top 16's best defense, which allows just 71.7 points per game. In the group's 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 the battle for fourth place. An Efes win combined with a Laboral loss would send Efes to the playoffs. These two teams have played each other in eight of the 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.
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