December arrives with a bang as the current leader travels to face the reigning champion in a rematch of last season's title decider, highlighting the action in Round 13 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. Here's your guide to that high-powered match-up and the rest of this week's action.
Efes and Barca in title-game rematch
There's no doubting the identity of the biggest game of the week as standings leader FC Barcelona (10-2) travels to face in-form reigning champion Anadolu Efes Istanbul (6-6) on Friday in a rematch of last season's championship game.
Efes is still outside the playoffs positions despite a run of four straight wins, including a last-minute triumph at local rivals Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul last week. But Ergin Ataman's men are clearly on the up, and will look to their star-studded backcourt to seal a valuable home win, Rodrigue Beaubois (24.7 PIR) and Shane Larkin (21.3 PIR), respectively, are ranked first and third among all EuroLeague players in performance index rating over the last three games.
The hosts will be even keener to exploit that backcourt strength considering Barcelona's absences, with Nick Calathes definitely out and Cory Higgins missing since the start of November. Establishing inside dominance through Nikola Mirotic and Brandon Davies looks to be Barca's best route towards winning the game, but the ability of guards Rokas Jokubaitis and Nico Laprovittola to contain Larkin, Beaubois, Vasilije Micic and Krunoslav Simon – who combined for 53 points in last week's win at Fenerbahce – will be crucial.
High flyers meet in Kazan
The dark horse of this Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season is UNICS Kazan (7-5), which is riding high in sixth position after winning four consecutive games. This week, UNICS faces an exciting home game against another in-form team, third-placed Olympiacos Piraeus (8-4).
UNICS' recent success has been built on an excellent defense, with no more than 78 points – and an average of 73 – allowed in its last four games. But the Russian team is also more than capable of delivering offensive fireworks, shown by its 98-point haul in victory at Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade last week.
That was even more than the total scored by Olympiacos in its stunning 72-93 win at AX Armani Exchange Milan, which secured the Greek team's first road win of the season in remarkable fashion. A club-record 18 shots made from three-point range – with eight different players contributing – will give Olympiacos confidence that it can end UNICS's run on Friday.
Real aims for seventh straight at home
Second-placed Real Madrid (10-2) has been unstoppable at home so far this season, winning all six games at the WiZink Center, while visiting Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv (7-5) has been struggling on the road with three consecutive defeats outside of Israel.
Real's main strength is clear: the big man trio of Walter Tavares (12.6 points per game), Guerschon Yabusele (12.3 points per game) and Vincent Poirier (7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game) are a formidable force. Maccabi will look to its backcourt leader Scottie Wilbekin both for offensive inspiration and on-the-ball defense to slow down distribution to the home team's big men and break up Real's rhythm.
History is very much on the side of the hosts. In addition to Real's excellent home form and Maccabi's road struggles this season, the visiting team has a terrible record in the Spanish capital over recent years: Maccabi has not won in Madrid since 2010, losing 10 in a row at the WiZink Center since then.
Fenerbahce, Monaco to fight over much-needed win
Two teams will be looking to bounce back as Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (3-9) hosts AS Monaco (5-7) on Thursday evening, with the home team on a four-game losing streak while the visitors have squandered three in a row to drop out of the playoffs places.
The latest frustrating loss for Fenerbahce came with last week's derby defeat to Efes, meaning that Sasa Djordjevic's team has lost five games by 5 points or less. That also suggests that the Turkish team is not too far away from becoming a much more successful unit.
Monaco has been struggling on the road all season, winning only once and suffering defeat in the last five games away from the principality. A key to this game could be whether the visitors can stop Fenerbahce from establishing inside dominance. Fenerbahce is ranked fourth in the league with a two-point shooting conversion rate of 55.4%, whereas Monaco is placed 14th in that category at 50.4%. Making life difficult inside the paint for Jan Vesely, Devin Booker and Achille Polonara is a must for Monaco.
Milan aims to end slump
Just a couple of weeks ago AX Armani Exchange Milan was flying high at the top of the standings, but fortunes can turn fast in the ultra-competitive environment of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. The Italian team has now dropped down to fourth place with an 8-4 record after losing three straight games. Ahead of Friday's trip to dangerous ALBA Berlin (4-8), Ettore Messina will be particularly keen to see his team regain their offensive production, with Milan averaging just 71 points in its three losses.
The other side of the ball will also be important, though, especially against an ALBA team with plenty of long-range scoring weapons such as Markus Eriksson (2.4 three-pointers per game) and Maodo Lo (2.0), who helped down Maccabi last week as ALBA totaled 15 three-pointers. Milan allowed Olympiacos to score 18 threes in its most recent defeat on Friday, so the Italian team's perimeter defense will be a firm focus in this game at 2022 Final Four venue Mercedes-Benz Arena.