By Nikos Varlas/ Varlas@eurohoops.net
When you lose something in life, then you appreciate it more! That happened with Euroleague. With no pauses due to the new competition format, a week without games was hard to swallow. But we did get through it with the help of exciting domestic cup games all over Europe and Spanish “Copa Del Rey” stealing the show in every level, even if the real final proved to be the epic quarterfinal between Barcelona and Real Madrid. This Euroleague returns for the end of the first Top16 round.
Eurohoops game of the week: Anadolu Efes – Real Madrid
The “Queen” is the only undefeated team in Τop16 with a 6-1 record and faces Anadolu Efes which has only one defeat and 5 straight wins for the first time since 2004-05 season. There is also one more thing that never happened to Efes after 2004. What is it? To win a home game against Real. The Spaniards have an impressive 6-1 record on the road against the Turks.
It’s going to be a big battle and the key for the win is obvious, the tempo of the game. Coach Mahmuti wants his team to play controlled basketball, attacking in 5 vs 5 situations. That’s why Jamon Gordon Lucas is one of his most important players. On the other hand coach Laso wants his team to take advantage of the transition, something Real does better than anyone in Europe.
Welcome back, Saras: Maccabi T.A. – Barcelona
A big game will be played in one of the most basketball crazed crowds in Europe. Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Besiktas, won its 40th domestic cup in Israel, but now it can afford to lose for the 3rd time at home in Top16, if the Israelis want to stay on the play offs race. Barcelona got the “Copa Del Rey”, has a 5-1 Top16 record and with a win in Tel Aviv, the Catalans will seal the first place of their group. The tradition favors them, having 7 wins in the last 9 games against Maccabi. The presence of Lior Eliyahu in the game is questionable because of his knee injury and one more time the return of Sarunas Jasikevicius (photo) in Tel Aviv will make headlines. Since he left Maccabi, the team has lost three Euroleague finals.
Fire on ice: CSKA Moscow – Panathinaikos
It’s a classic Euroleague derby. Those two teams have won 10 Euroleague titles and 4 of the last six trophies. Both opponents share the same record (4-2), Panathinaikos has just won the Greek cup and CSKA Moscow still is the favorite, but there are question about its ability to have home court advantage in the play offs. The possible absence of injured Viktor Khryapa will be more than important for the outcome of the game. Also keep an eye for the duel Teodosic vs Diamantidis. Those two don’t live eachother.
Βattle for the advantage: Khimki – Olympiacos
Khimki is undefeated in Moscow, got the big win in Vitoria and if the Russians beat the defending Euroleague champs, their next target should be the play offs home court advantage. Olympiacos lost the Greek cup final, but after winning Maccabi and Fenerbahce/ Ulker, wants one more road win in order to stay on course in Euroleague. In this game the Greeks can’t be considered the favorites, against a team playing modern basketball and having admirable balance in every aspect of the game.
Consistency: Siena – Caja Laboral
Both teams started Top16 impressing everyone. However, Siena was defeated in Barcelona and Caja lost two games in a row by Barcelona – we are not referring to “Copa Del Rey” – and Khimki. So the big question about those two opponents is if they can stay consistent until the end of Euroleague’s second phase. Siena will try to celebrate with a win in front of its home crowd its latest Italian cup triumph, but it will not be easy against feisty Caja which signed Jelinek, but can’t use him due to injury.
Time to win: Fenerbahce/ Ulker – Besiktas
Fenerbahce/ Ulker won the Turkish cup and that maybe means less stress for the team and its coach Simone Pianigiani. Besiktas until now is the weakest link in the group and Fener can’t afford to lose this game in order to chase its last chances for qualification to the play offs. The team of Pianigiani is the favorite, but when two teams from the same country meet in Euroleague the game has its own complexities. Just remember what happened between Alba Berlin and Brose Baskets.
Tricky one: Alba Berlin – Unicaja Malaga
Αfter getting its first ever Top16 win against Brose Baskets, the team of coach Sasha Obradovic wants to continue in order to be more than the adjuster of who gets qualified. Unicaja is until now the most unpredicted team of the competition. That was proven with its win in Moscow, but you never know when the switch will be turned on, or off. It’s an interesting game that it will be decided by the tempo and the perimeter accuracy in long shots.
The question: Brose Baskets – Zalgiris Kaunas
After losing in the last shot by Panathinaikos, Brose Baskets still has a 0-6 record, that can be considered unfair in comparison to the basketball this team produces. It seems that it’s just a matter of time for the defending German champions to get their win and it remains to be seen what Zalgiris has to say about that. The Lithuanians are trying to cover the lost ground after their bad Top16 start, they have a deeper roster, but also financial woes. If they underestimate Brose Baskets, then they are going to pay for it.