The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season faces its final round with a lot of questions left to be answered. Mainly, four teams – Real Madrid, Zenit St Petersburg, TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, and Valencia Basket – are still fighting for the two playoff spots available. Three other teams, already into the next phase – AX Armani Exchange Milan, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and FC Bayern Munich – still have chances to get the home-court advantage in their series, joining FC Barcelona, CSKA Moscow and Anadolu Efes Istanbul in that privileged situation. Only CSKA and Efes were able to win both games in last week's double round, but maybe the biggest winner was FC Bayern Munich, which qualified to the playoffs for the first time by downing Zalgiris Kaunas on late free throws and a last-second block by Vladimir Lucic.
I lost a good chance to rank high in the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge, mainly because of a poor choice of captain and the absence of a player. Alexey Shved of Khimki Moscow had a terrific game in Round 31, but sat out in Round 32 due to back problems. And then I cannot really blame Nikola Mirotic of Barcelona about anything. I had four other players ranking higher than him, but he has been so good lately! Other than that, things went well, avoiding players that underperformed or got injured – I traded both of my Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul stars, Jan Vesely and Nando De Colo – to score 163.4 points, ranking 7,156th overall. I climbed to the 1,946th spot in the standings. If I had Shane Larkin of Efes instead of Shved, and had made him team captain, I would have been top-75 this week. That's how close the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge is this season – as close as it can be!
Three trades are allowed this week before we head into the playoffs and have unlimited trades until the end of the season. It shouldn't be so difficult, I guess, since I am trading Shved because he is questionable. He is ranked first in the scorers' table and I guess he will not play unless he is 100%, as Khimki has been out of the playoffs race for weeks. I am also trading Mirotic because of the same reason – Barcelona is first, after all – and if anyone deserves a rest, it's him. Will Mirotic be back for the playoffs? Absolutely. Finally, I am trading Shavon Shields of Milan, whom I bought before Round 33, because I have a better choice at small forward.
That player is Sasha Vezenkov of Olympiacos Piraeus, who has been terrific lately. It will be Olympiacos's final game of the season and they play at home against another eliminated team, Khimki Moscow Region. Being a proud team, Olympiacos is not expected to leave anything in the tank and finish the competition with high energy. Vezenkov has been arguably its main player in recent games. I am also buying Achille Polonara of Baskonia, whose team plays a do-or-die game against Valencia. Maybe none of them will make it to the playoffs, but the winner earns a chance to qualify depending on other results, and the loser is definitely eliminated. I expect an intense, electric showdown between those big sports rivals and for both teams to use their strongest rotations. Polonara has been on fire lately, as has Larkin, who is my third choice after his outstanding game in Round 33.
So Gancedato looks like this before Round 34:
Vasilije Micic, Anadolu Efes Istanbul – Efes does not play for big goals in Round 34 but wants to keep its rhythm going, running its offense through Micic and Larkin.
Jordan Loyd, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade – It is the end of the season for Zvezda and Loyd should look for yet another outstanding individual performance.
Sasha Vezenkov, Olympiacos Piraeus – Vezenkov has averaged a PIR of 22.8 in the last six games and had a career-high 41 PIR against ALBA Berlin. He has been unstoppable.
Achille Polonara, TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz – It is hard not to consider him after his last three games: 20.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and a PIR of 30.0. Wow!
Edy Tavares, Real Madrid – Real plays for survival and Vesely is out – get well soon, Jan! – so Los Blancos should run its offense through their ever-effective big man.
Shane Larkin, Anadolu Efes Istanbul – Larkin had a PIR of 30 in Round 33, and it is crunch time. That means Larkin should play better and better until the end of the season.
Jordan Mickey, Khimki Moscow Region – Mickey has posted double digits in scoring and PIR in each of the last 12 games. He averaged a PIR of 29.3 in the last three games.
Johannes Voigtmann, CSKA Moscow – With Nikola Milutinov and Joel Bolomboy sidelined, Voigtmann has stepped up, proving he is an all-around forward with deep range.
That's all I have for you this week. If you played well, you probably have – like me – enough EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge money to buy anyone you want. It doesn't happen every season, but that's the case this time. Enjoy the last regular season games, EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge managers, and see you in the playoffs!