The top two teams in the standings stage a monumental showdown to finish off Round 21. League leaders Efes (17-3) set itself apart with a two-game sweep last week, while Real (15-5) saw a 13-game win streak stopped with consecutive losses and now has three 14-win teams breathing down its neck, making this result especially important for the hosts, who are unbeaten at home this season. Efes has an 8-1 road record, however.
Real has a 22-7 record in their series this century, and it has been almost 15 years since Efes has won a game in Madrid. When they met in Round 4, the Turkish champs won handily, 76-60 in Istanbul, after dominating the second half by 47-29. Krunoslav Simon had 17 points that night, as did Bryant Dunston, although he has played just three games since due to injury. Sergio Llull was Real's top gun with 14 points.
There are few taller tests in world basketball than the one we'll see between Real's 2.20-meter center, Walter Tavares, and 2.21-meter Tibor Pleiss of Efes on Friday. Both are having a major impact on their teams' success, in part by making more than 65.0% of their two-point shots. Tavares averages a league-high 2.0 blocks and 6.3 rebounds, sixth-best in the competition. Pleiss scores a little more (8.0 ppg.), shoots excellent free throws (92.0%) and ranks ninth in per-minute PIR, with 26.6 prorated over 40 minutes. Assuming both start the game, the jump ball itself will be worth watching!
Keys to victory: Real
Real rarely finds itself hard-pressed to outgun opponents, but that happened in its last loss, at Khimki Moscow Region, and Efes outscores the hosts 87.4 to 84.4 points per game. For that reason, Tavares and defensive aces Jeffery Taylor and Facundo Campazzo will be important on Friday. Both teams allow the same amount of points (77.4 per game) but Real holds opponents to much lower PIRs on average, and that effort has to be focused on keeping the Efes scorers, especially red-hot Shane Larkin, from going off.
Keys to victory: Efes
Although Efes seems to be able to do no wrong, lately, it will need to do a lot right to win in the Spanish capital. Protecting the perimeter, where Madrid ranks second with 11.2 triples per game, will be job one. Getting around Tavares for good shots close to the basket will be another challenge. Power forward Chris Singleton may have a big role to play in helping lure Tavares outside, especially if Real is without its own corner ace, Anthony Randolph, who has missed the last four games due to injury.