It took until the final round of the regular season to find out, but the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs picture is now set. Take a first glance at these playoffs opponents! The best-of-five series start on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 17 and 18.
Playoff A: CSKA Moscow vs. Khimki Moscow Region
After finishing the regular season in first place, CSKA Moscow enters the playoffs looking for its 15th Final Four appearance in 16 years.The Russian team's excellence has been based on a trio of backcourt stars, with Nando De Colo averaging 17.2 points, Sergio Rodriguez providing 13.5 points and 4.8 assists, and Cory Higgins accounting for 13.6 points per game. Coach Dimitris Itoudis has also benefitted from an outstanding first season at the club from Will Clyburn, who has averaged 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds while spending more total minutes on the floor than any other CSKA player. Itoudis's men were easily the highest-scoring team during the regular season, averaging 89.2 points per game. And after stringing together a run of 10 consecutive home wins, it's clear that CSKA will not be stopped without a supreme battle.
Khimi Moscow Region
Alexey Shved has been the star for a Khimki Moscow Region team that is preparing for its first ever playoffs appearance. But Shved's contribution has not been limited to his record-breaking scoring powers (21.4 points per game), because he is also the team's leading facilitator with an average of 5.2 assists, as well as being one of the league's top ball hawks with 1.4 steals per game. Shved has plenty of support with the all-round excellence of Anthony Gill (11.0 ppg and 4.6 rpg), while the rebounding ability of Malcolm Thomas (5.3 rpg), Thomas Robinson (6.1 rpg) and Tyler Honeycutt (5.4 rpg) is another major asset. Honeycutt and veteran James Anderson both missed the end of the regular season through injury, however, and recovering those two key players will be a priority for coach Georgios Bartzokas.
Playoff B: Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens vs. Real Madrid
Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens
Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens weathered a season of ups and downs to roar back into the playoffs with home-court advantage as a bonus. The Greek giant started off by losing three of its first five games, before winning eight of the next nine. A mid-season wobble of six losses in eight ensued, but a late spurt of five straight wins restored the positive vibe for Xavi Pascual's men. The heart and soul of everything has been Nick Calathes, who has delivered one of the most consistent backcourt seasons in EuroLeague history with no less than 10 points-assists double-doubles – a record. Another key is Chris Singleton, who has started every game and spent more total time on the floor than anyone in the league except Alexey Shved. The dynamism of James Gist (10.1 ppg and 4.5 rpg) is also crucial, while Mike James has averaged 14.8 points per game since rejoining the team in mid-season.
Real Madrid has overcome horrendous injury problems to reach the post-season despite last season's league MVP, Sergio Llull, sitting out the entire regular season and big men Gustavo Ayon, Anthony Randolph and Ognjen Kuzmic also missing large chunks of action. Pablo Laso's squad has overcome those problems partly thanks to a season of stunning brilliance from teen sensation Luka Doncic, the runaway league leader in performance index rating. But it hasn't been a one-man show, with seven different players averaging at least 8 points per game and mid-season recruit Walter Tavares averaging 5.9 rebounds since joining the team. A quartet of long-range snipers – Jaycee Carroll, Fabien Causeur, Jeffrey Taylor and Trey Thompkins – have all made more than 40% of their three-point shots, completing a Madrid lineup which can hurt you from anywhere.
Playoff C: Olympiacos Piraeus vs. Zalgiris Kaunas
It's the same old story at Olympiacos Piraeus, with the Reds setting their sights on a seventh Final Four outing in the last decade on the back of veteran leaders Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis. Spanoulis missed the first 10 games of the regular season through injury before bouncing back to average 13.1 points and 5.7 assists per game, while Printezis is the team's co-leader with an average performance index rating of 14.8. The other PIR leader is rebounding ace Nikola Milutinov (9.3 ppg. and 5.78 rpg.) another key component for coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos's team. The never-say-die defensive efforts of Kostas Papanikolaou and the athleticism of Jamel McLean have also been vital. As much as the identity of the individuals, however, Olympiacos's famous collective spirit remains intact and makes the Greek giant a formidable opponent every year at this time.
The surprise package of the regular season, Zalgiris Kaunas is now aiming for its first Final Four appearance this century. Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius has built a very well-balanced team, with the offensive efforts being led by dynamic point guard Kevin Pangos, the only player to have started every game, with averages of 12.4 points and 6.2 assists. Pangos's play around the perimeter has been perfectly complemented by the inside presence of veteran Paulius Jankunas, who has delivered arguably his best-ever season in averaging 12.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Further threat comes from the penetration of Vasilije Micic, the long-range shooting of Arturas Milaknis, the all-round energy of Edgaras Ulanovas and the powerful play around the rims of Aaron White and Brandon Davies. Zalgiris is not finished yet.
Playoff D: Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul vs. Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz
Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul
Reigning champion Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul is mounting another strong title challenge mainly thanks to the league's best defensive record, with Zeljko Obradovic's troops allowing just 75.2 points per game. There are plenty of potential game-breakers within the Fenerbahce ranks, though, starting with tireless point guard Brad Wanamaker, who has led his team's offensive output with 11.4 points and 3.9 assists per game. Along with Wanamaker, fellow new recruits Marko Guduric, Nicola Melli and Jason Thompson are the only Fenerbahce players to have appeared in every game during the regular season, illustrating the depth of options available to Obradovic. And with last season's title-winners Jan Vesely (12.9 ppg and 4.9 rpg), Kostas Sloukas (10.1 ppg and 5.0 apg) and Luigi Datome (9.6 ppg) still playing vital roles, everything is in place for the Turkish team to guard its crown jealously.
Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz
Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz roared into the playoffs with a run of six straight victories before a surprising final round defeat at home, and coach Pedro Martinez's team must now bounce back immediately from that setback. The Spanish team's late-season charge was largely based upon a trio of outstanding big men, with the all-round skills of Toko Shengelia earning March's monthly MVP award, while Johannes Voigtmann ranks second in the league in three-point shooting conversion (58.5%) and Vincent Poirier averaged 12.7 points and 7.7 rebounds over the last six games. The backcourt is also highly talented, with Jayson Granger (9.6 ppg and 5.3 apg) and sharp-shooter Rodrigue Beaubois (12.1 ppg) joined by veteran pass master Marcelinho Huertas, giving Baskonia an impressive array of firepower and know-how.