This Week: Top showdowns to show out 2020

Dec 28, 2020 by Print
This Week: Top showdowns to show out 2020

The final action of 2020 takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Round 17 delivering a big batch of exciting festive action to mark the midpoint of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season. Here are some stories to look out for.

Efes, Real in heavyweight showdown

After overcoming FC Barcelona last week, Anadolu Efes Istanbul (8-8) will attempt to continue rising in the standings by facing another Spanish visitor of great repute, Real Madrid (11-5). Efes now sits only one win short of the playoffs positions, while Real has jumped into a share of second place, with Barcelona, after a fine run of victories in five straight and 10 out of its last 11 games. For Efes, a particularly welcome aspect of last week's win was the return to form of key man Shane Larkin, who had 23 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists after totaling just 8 points, 1 rebound and 3 assists over his previous two games. The scoring star is still working his way back to top form after missing several games early this season through injury. The win over Barca was a very encouraging sign that Larkin will soon be piling up the points on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, Real big man Walter Tavares has been the best player in the competition in the last few weeks, claiming four consecutive double-doubles and recording a remarkable average PIR of 27.7 over the last six games. So the battle for supremacy between Larkin's perimeter shooting and Tavares's inside dominance could be a key to deciding this high-powered encounter.

Maccabi, Zenit aim to keep momentum

An intriguing contest lies in wait on Tuesday night at Menora Mivtachim Arena, where Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv (7-9) will look for its third consecutive victory with a visit from dangerous Zenit St Petersburg (9-5) in their first EuroLeague meeting ever in Israel. Maccabi has won four of its last five games to climb closer to the playoffs positions. Zenit has been impressive all season, and last week delivered arguably its best performance yet, a 29-point thrashing of Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade. Maccabi is the EuroLeague's best rebounding team, with an average of 35.9 boards per game, while Zenit ranks 11th in that category, with 31.2 rebounds per night, so the Russian team will have to be prepared for a big physical battle inside the paint. Zenit, however, plays a controlled and disciplined game that limits the scoring chances and can force the opposition into taking tough shots. As Maccabi has the second-worst true shooting percentage in the league (46.9%), this could be a serious test of patience for the hosts.

Bayern, Barca battle for top four

Last week's setback in Istanbul saw Barcelona (11-5) suffer consecutive defeats for the first time this season. Sarunas Jasikevicius's men now have the task of bouncing back on Wednesday in an away game against FC Bayern Munich (10-6), a direct rival for a place among the all-important top four. Bayern lost its last two away games but remains strong at home, having won three consecutive games at the Audi Dome behind excellent defense, allowing just 68.3 points per game in those victories. But the German side has also suffered scoring problems, failing to reach 80 points in any of the last four games. Barca, which will hope to welcome back athletic big man Brandon Davies after a calf problem, boasts the best defense in the competition with an average of just 72.6 points allowed per game. So everything points towards this being a tight and low-scoring battle between two teams who will seek to play the game at their pace and make life difficult for the opposition.

Radonjic eyes winning second start

Since Round 16 ended, a coaching change has been made, with Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade (5-11) replaced Sasa Obradovic with Dejan Radonjic, who arrives for his second spell on the club's bench. Radonjic led Zvezda to the 7DAYS EuroCup semifinals in 2014 and the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs in 2016. He also won three Adriatic League championships, three Serbian League crowns and three Serbian Cups and in his first stint with the club, which lasted from 2013 to 2017. With the club's passionate fans hoping his return leads to similar slices of glory, Radonjic's second spell will start with a home meeting against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens (5-10) on Wednesday. It is a key game between two direct rivals in the battle to climb away from the foot of the standings and mount a playoffs challenge in the second half of the season. As such, the repercussions of the outcome could linger long beyond the final week of 2020, so expect an intense contest between a pair of teams who have shown flashes of promise but struggled for consistency all season so far.

Hines welcomes former teammates

Arguably the most successful player in the competition over the last decade will aim to give his former teammates a cold reception when Kyle Hines leads AX Armani Exchange Milan (9-6) into battle against rampant standings leader CSKA Moscow (13-3) in the fashion capital in Wednesday's late tipoff. Hines wore the red jersey of CSKA with pride for seven seasons and 218 games, claiming EuroLeague titles in 2016 and 2019, before reuniting with ex-CSKA coach Ettore Messina and point guard Sergio Rodriguez in Milan during the summer. He has quickly become a key member of the Milan team, averaging the fourth-highest playing time (23:50 per game), and this week he will attempt to slow down the man who effectively replaced him in Moscow, Nikola Milutinov. The Serbian big man has been spectacular in helping to sustain CSKA's current 11-game winning run, averaging 13.3 points, 12 rebounds and a PIR of 25.0 over the last four games. The inside scrap between Hines – with the help of Zach LeDay – and Milutinov will be a key factor in Wednesday night's showdown, which promises to provide an exciting finale to 2020's action in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.