This Week: Crucial games in playoffs race

Jan 28, 2019 by Print
This Week: Crucial games in playoffs race

Playoff places and home-court advantage will be fought over in Round 21 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season, which could see the league leader advance to the next stage with nine games still remaining. Let's take a look at that story and a few more ahead of another exciting week of action.

Fenerbahce to advance into the playoffs?

Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul can become the first team to qualify for the playoffs by earning a road victory at FC Bayern Munich. The Turkish giant has enjoyed a superb season to surge clear at the top of the standings with an 18-2 record, and the dominance exerted by Zeljko Obradovic's men could be truly hammered home by advancing to the next stage with two months of the regular season still remaining.

With Bayern at 10-10 and three eighth-place teams currently tied with 9-11 records playing each other this week and in the future, at least eight teams are guaranteed to lose 12 games, which Fenerbahce cannot do, even without winning again after Round 21.

It will not, however, be easy. Bayern, sitting in seventh place, also has everything to play for, and the German side has been a formidable force on its home court, winning four of the last five games in the Audi Dome.

But Fenerbahce has never lost against Bayern, and its previous two trips to Munich resulted in some remarkable long-range shooting: in 2014 Andrew Goudelock set a new all-time EuroLeague record by making 10 three-pointers, and the following year Ali Muhammed struck seven triples in another road win. Could this week make it three in a row for Fener's sharpshooters?

Maccabi takes its streak to Vitoria-Gasteiz

An absolutely pivotal game in the race for the playoffs takes place in this season's Final Four venue, where KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz will hope that support from the Fernando Buesa Arena fans will play a part in overcoming visiting Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv.

The two teams, currently sharing a three-way tie for the eighth and final playoffs spot with 8-11 records, have been heading in different directions over the past few weeks. Baskonia – burdened by injuries to key players Toko Shengelia and Jayson Granger – has lost three of its last five games, but can nonetheless make a big move by beating Maccabi for a second time this season, effectively moving two victories ahead of the visitors.

After it had appeared to be out of the playoff picture following a slow start to the season, however, Maccabi has roared back to life in recent weeks, claiming four consecutive victories to generate a huge amount of momentum ahead of this must-win match-up.

Maccabi coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos is primarily known for his defensive diligence, but offense has been the key to the Israeli team's recent surge, with his team scoring an average of 89.3 points scored over the last four games. Baskonia coach Velimir Perasovic may well attempt to slow down the game and allow his players to perform at their own pace. Whichever team succeeds in controlling the tempo and rhythm will give its playoffs hopes a huge lift.

Panathinaikos and Efes attempt to bounce back

Two teams seeking to bounce back from losses meet in an intriguing showdown in Greece, with Panathinaikos OPAP Athens welcoming Anadolu Efes Istanbul.

Three consecutive losses on the road, the continuing Achilles heel of Panathinaikos, as the team mustering a 2-4 record so far under Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino. But the Greek giant has been a completely different proposition on its home floor, defeating dangerous CSKA Moscow and Bayern Munich since Pitino took over.

Despite its 8-12 record, Panathinaikos is still in the thick of the playoffs race, just two wins short of seventh place, and there is also plenty of motivation for a visiting Efes side which has a top-four finish – and with it, home-court advantage in the playoffs – to play for.

Efes saw a four-game winning streak come to an end with last week's loss at Real Madrid and has struggled on the road recently, losing four of its last five games away from Istanbul. Holding onto fourth place by winning in the hostile environment of Athens would be a great way to turn that around.

Olympiacos, Barcelona fight over fifth place

The result of this encounter will be followed particularly closely by Efes's closest rivals for fourth place, Olympiacos Piraeus and FC Barcelona, who go head to head in Greece for a game which could go a long way towards deciding the final standings.

Olympiacos is in the middle of its most challenging phase of the season: two of their last games were road trips to Real Madrid and Fenerbahce (both resulting in defeat) and this match-up with Barca is immediately followed by away games at Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and Efes, and a home meeting with CSKA Moscow.

With so many tough games around the corner it is imperative for David Blatt's men to pick up wins wherever they can. But standing in their way is a Barcelona team with an equally pressing need after losing its last two games.

The first meeting between the teams resulted in a 60-69 road win for Olympiacos, and we can expect a similarly tight and low-scoring match-up this time around in a game that will be contested with playoffs-style intensity.

Nunnally return to boost Milan

Along with Baskonia and Maccabi, the other team currently locked in a three-way tie for eighth place is AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan, and this week the Italian team will be boosted by a high-profile arrival, none other than former EuroLeague champion James Nunnally.

The smooth-shooting forward has returned to Europe following a brief spell in the NBA, and he will be desperate to remind the continent of the talents that allowed him to play a key role in Fenerbahce's title triumph two seasons ago.

The opponent for Milan this week is a Herbalife Gran Canaria team that has struggled in recent weeks, losing five in a row to drop off the pace in the race for the top eight. The Spanish side has few chances remaining to give itself any chance of progressing to post-season play, and the Canary Islanders must find a way of reigniting an offense which has averaged only 67.4 points per game during its current losing run.

Now, just to life make more difficult, Gran Canaria must also find a way of stopping James Nunnally.