Round 29 features records ready to be broken, a playoff berth at stake and potential playoff previews. Prepare for Round 29 with a look at what to watch for.
Record-chasing Voitgmann to shoot Baskonia into the playoffs?
After a brilliant five-game winning streak, Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz now has the opportunity to fill the last vacant spot for the playoffs. By a quirk of fate, however, the Spanish team’s opponent for its date with destiny is none other than its only challenger for that all-important eighth place: Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv. Recent form is stacked in favor of Baskonia, which has put together its winning run on the back of an outstanding offense. And one of the biggest threats to Maccabi in Thursday’s all-or-nothing showdown is Johannes Voigtmann, who is on track to set a EuroLeague record in three-point shooting accuracy. The German big man has made 23 of his 38 attempts from beyond the arc so far this season, giving him a conversion rate of 60.5% - marginally better than the record of 60% achieved by Pawel Wiekiera of Polish team Idea Slask in the 2002-03 season. And with Rodrigue Beaubois, Jayson Granger, Marcelinho Huertas and Janis Timma all making more than 40% of their three-point shots this season, Maccabi can expect to face a long-range barrage at Fernando Buesa Arena on Thursday.
Playoffs come early in Moscow and Kaunas?
Other than CSKA Moscow having locked down the top spot, the remaining finishing places in the top half are still very much undecided with plenty of potential for movement over the next two games. However, it is perfectly possible that Round 29’s fixtures will provide two previews of the playoffs as CSKA travels to Zalgiris Kaunas on Friday night after reigning champion Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul makes the journey to Khimki Moscow Region on Thursday night.
Zalgiris would drop down to an eighth-place finish if it loses against CSKA and then in the final week against Real Madrid and if Baskonia wins its two remaining games – not an unlikely scenario by any means – setting up a last eight meeting between Zalgiris and CSKA. And the same scenario applies in Moscow: if Khimki finishes 1-1 it could drop down to seventh place, meaning a playoffs meeting with the second-place team, which at the moment is Fenerbahce – this week’s visitor. So Round 29 may also prove to be a curtain-raiser for the playoffs…these teams could be about to get to know each other very well.
Shved set for new scoring record
However, Khimki has every intention of avoiding that scenario by gunning down Fenerbahce and maintaining its challenge for the top four, and shooting star Alexey Shved will clearly play a major role in that quest on what will surely be another milestone occasion for the backcourt star. Having already broken the record for three-pointers in a season, Alexey Shved is now poised to break the single-season scoring record as well, with his 20 points in last week’s derby loss to CSKA taking him dead-level with current record holder Keith Langford, who scored 609 points for UNICS Kazan last season – meaning that Shved’s first points against Fenerbahce on Thursday will set a new record.
Although both Langford and Shved’s cumulative scoring feats have naturally been helped by the fact that they came in the new and longer format of the competition, their stats also stand up historically. In fact, if Shved slightly increases his current average of 21.75 points per game in the remaining games, he will climb above Marc Salyers (21.79 ppg. for Chorale Roanne in 2007-08) to register the highest game average since 2004, when Lynn Greer recorded 25.07 points per game for Ideal Slask.
Panathinaikos recovering defensive groove?
Throughout his decade-long coaching career in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens coach Xavi Pascual has always built his success upon solid defense – in his 2010 title triumph with Barcelona, for example, Pascual’s team prospered by allowing only 54 and 68 points in its Final Four victories over CSKA and Olympiacos. Earlier this regular season that was again the case for Pascual’s Panathinaikos, which used suffocating D to gain victories against powerful opponents such as Fenerbahce (70-68), Olympiacos (62-70) and Khimki (93-65).
A few weeks ago, however, something went wrong and Panathinaikos became defensively vulnerable in a manner rarely seen by Pascual teams, allowing opponents to pile on the points in defeats against Brose Bamberg (95-74), Olympiacos (85-87) and Real Madrid (92-75). Just when it seemed that Panathinaikos was losing its way, however, Pascual’s old core strengths again came to the fore. His team has roared back to winning ways by gaining three straight victories and allowing just 79, 71 and 75 points along the way, once more building its success upon solid foundations. Another mean defensive display against Valencia this week would not only keep the Greens in the hunt for home-court advantage, but would also suggest they will be tough for any opponent to beat – or score against – in the playoffs.
Madrid to keep control of destiny?
Whatever Panathinaikos does, however, it could prove irrelevant in the race to secure a top-four finish because Real Madrid has control of its own destiny – the Spanish team is level with Panathinaikos in wins (17 each), but holds the head to head advantage after following up an 82-80 defeat in Athens with a thumping 92-75 home win in Round 25. Madrid has been forced to endure a series of injury problems over the course of the campaign, with last season’s MVP Sergio Llull and summer signing Ognjen Kuzmic missing the entire season so far, while Gustavo Ayon and Anthony Randolph also had extended spells on the sidelines. But most of Madrid’s players are now back in business, and the return of the league’s top-rated performer, Luka Doncic, from a three-game absence has further bolstered Coach Pablo Laso’s options heading into the decisive phase of the year.
Victory in the two remaining games of the regular season, at Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade this week and at home against Brose Bamberg in the final round, would guarantee home-court advantage in the playoffs for Los Blancos. And with a roster healthier than it has been all season, the Spanish giant could take some stopping.