It will be a crucial night at Zalgirio Arena in Kaunas, Lithuania when Zalgiris welcomes already-eliminated Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul on Friday. A loss, combined with an Olympiacos Piraeus win in another game, would leave Zalgiris eliminated form the playoffs race, unable to repeat the success of last season. However, a win would still keep coach Sarunas Jasikevicius's warriors in the mix. Zalgiris comes from a pivotal road win against direct opponent Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, making it three wins in a row for the hosts. Dacka managed to snap a six-loss slide with a home win against Khimki Moscow Region on Wednesday. The guests have nothing but pride at stake, but enough of it to try to play the spoiler in the race.
Earlier this season
This will be the fourth time that these two teams meet in the EuroLeague, with Zalgiris ahead 2-1 in the series. The last of those two wins came in Round 13 as Zalgiris triumphed in Istanbul, 71-75. Big man Brandon Davies led the way to victory with 17 points, and was helped by Leo Westermann's 12. For Darussafaka, since-released Ray McCallum led the path with 17 points. With less than a minute to go in that game, Dacka led 71-70, but a three-pointer and free throws by Westermann capitalized on a McCallum turnover to give the win to Zalgiris.
Brandon Davies and Michael Eric have been pillars in the paint this season for their respective teams all season. Davies averages 14.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists as a starter for Zalgiris in 27 appearances this season. He will be matched with Eric, who averages 11.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 26 games. Earlier this week against Khimki, Eric led his team with a huge 22 points and 15 boards to become Round 27 MVP.
Keys to victory: Zalgiris
With both teams averaging less than 80 points this season, Zalgiris's edge going into the game seems to be on its better defense. Dacka has had a rough season, but its talented players can break open any close game, so the hosts should pay special attention to the athleticism of the guests, which allows them to perform rather well on rebounds (34.7 rpg.). Zalgiris cannot afford to lose this game and depend on other results, so expect the hosts to exert themselves to play a decisive game with the help of their noisy fans.
Keys to victory: Darussafaka
Darussafaka is long gone from the playoffs race, and the fact of playing without pressure makes them dangerous for any team with a lot at stake. The win against Khimki earlier this week could be an antidote for the negative trend showed by Darussafaka the last couple of months. Darussafaka is still the best team in the league in blocks (3.7 bpg.) but it still allows a league second-worst 85.0 points per game, so adjusting the defense improving shot selection on its league-low 30.5% three-point rate could help Darussafaka return the favor of Round 13.