The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs tip off this week with eight teams battling for four precious tickets to the Final Four in Belgrade. Along the way, underdogs will look to upset the odds, records will be added to and new ones could be set, and rivalries will flare. Prepare for the playoffs with a look at some of the main storylines.
The drama continues…
After six months of action and 240 games, the fun is set to continue in this outstanding Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season as the remaining eight teams go into battle for the right to compete at next month’s Final Four in Belgrade. This season has already seen headlines written, storylines unfold and records broken, and we can be sure there will be more drama over the next couple of weeks.
For starters, two players will inevitably extend individual records as Nick Calathes and Alexey Shved have at least three games to add more assists and points to their respective single-season records. Calathes currently has 220 assists, already 19 more than the previous record set by Vassilis Spanoulis, while Shved (643 points) will stretch further ahead of Keith Langford's (609 points) old scoring record.
Another record that could fall in the coming weeks is the most points scored by a team in a season with CSKA Moscow needing 385 more points to overtake the total of Real Madrid from last season. There are certain to be plenty more unpredictable records broken along the way as well, so keep your eyes on the action. You never know what you might miss.
Madrid aims to upset the odds
One of the biggest stories of the regular season was the battle for fourth place – the final position in the standings that conveyed home-court advantage for the playoffs – with Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens, Real Madrid, Khimki Moscow Region and Zalgiris Kaunas all presenting strong cases for that honor at various stages. In the end it came down to a dramatic finale as Panathinaikos’s overtime victory over AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan in the final game of the regular season proved to be enough to seal it for the Greens, edging out Madrid and setting up a potentially spectacular playoffs clash between the two giants of European basketball.
And that home-court advantage could prove to be very important indeed. It’s well known that around 75% of teams blessed with an extra game on their home floor have historically prevailed in the playoffs, and Panathinaikos’s exceptional record in Athens makes it clear that Madrid has a major challenge to overturn those odds. Since the arrival of Xavi Pascual as coach at the start of last season, the Greens have won 27 of their 32 home games in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, with the passion of the home fans helping to create a fortress in the Greek capital. However, two of those losses came in last season’s playoffs battle with Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul, so Madrid can take solace that a precedent has been set and hope that history will repeat itself this week.
Olympiacos hoping experience counts
They say that momentum counts for a lot in sports, and if that’s the case then one team that could be in trouble is Olympiacos Piraeus. The Reds are heading into post-season play after losing four of their last five games, including a home defeat in the final round of the regular season against a Zalgiris Kaunas team it must now face again in the playoffs.
However, another factor which traditionally makes a big difference in the sporting arena is experience, and with former champs Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Vangelis Mantzaris and Kostas Papanikolaou at the helm, there is no shortage of playoffs nous within the Reds’ ranks. For hardened veterans like that quartet, there is a huge psychological difference between playing a regular season game with home-court advantage already secured and competing in the playoffs with the season on the line. So although Zalgiris has already struck once in Piraeus, repeating that feat could prove to be an entirely different matter.
Obradovic needs to make home-court advantage count
It’s well known that Zeljko Obradovic is a legendary and iconic coach, having won nine EuroLeague titles with five different clubs over the course of nearly three decades. However, it’s perhaps not quite so commonly appreciated that the Fenerbahce coach has suffered some major losses at KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz’s Fernando Buesa Arena over the years. After taking over at Fenerbahce in 2013, Obradovic saw his team defeated 95-73, 93-76 and 86-52 in his first three trips to the court in northern Spain, with the coach also suffering defeats in the same arena during his time at Panathinaikos in the 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2010-11 campaigns, winning only once in Vitoria during that period.
Obradovic did finally enjoy success at the Fernando Buesa Arena on his last trip, with Fenerbahce winning 69-83 in November. With home-court advantage secured, Fenerbahce could even afford to drop another couple of losses at the Fernando Buesa and still advance to the Final Four, assuming it can stay strong at home – starting this week. And we can be certain of one thing: his previous losses at Baskonia will not even enter Obradovic’s thinking as he heads into this week’s home games.
Moscow derby first
The match-up between Russian duo CSKA Moscow and Khimki Moscow Region presents a novelty in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague this century: it will be the first time two teams from the same city have met in the playoffs. In fact, you have to go back to the 2010-11 season to even find a playoff matchup between two teams from the same country, never mind the same city. On that occasion a thrilling series between Real Madrid and Valencia went to the wire, with Madrid eventually triumphing in Game 5. Madrid also had an all-Spanish affair the previous year, on that occasion losing 3-1 against archrival Barcelona. And another Spanish derby took place in 2009 when Barcelona overcame Baskonia, while Unicaja Malaga defeated Barcelona a couple of years earlier.
So there are a few precedents for teams from the same countries (well, Spain) going head to head in the playoffs, but never before has there been a true local derby at this stage of the season. And just to make things more interesting, Tuesday’s series opener will be the 100th edition in the history of the ‘Leningradka derby’, with CSKA winning 82 against Khimki’s 17.