By Nikos Varlas/ email@example.com
At this point the end of the Top16 road is visible and the 11th gameday can be a landmark for many teams. That’s the case for Siena and Olympiacos which will settle their scores in a game with the second spot of their group standings on the line – as Barcelona has all but locked the first place – but also for Maccabi Tel Aviv and its last minute effort to cover the lost ground and get to the play offs train. In the other group and specifically in Madrid, Unicaja will have the chance in Madrid against Real to capitalize with a win its last week upset against Panathinaikos and cover its home defeat by Zalgiris.
Eurohoops game of the week: Olympiacos – Siena
We don’t like the idea of putting the same team in our game of the week for two straight gamedays, but this is a one way road! In Tuscany Siena will host Olympiacos in a key game for both of them. If the Italians defend their home court, then the second place of their group and the play offs home court advantage is theirs, while Olympiacos will have to fight until the end in order to qualify.
If the Greeks prevail (with a +3 point difference), they will be the favorites the get the second spot and its perks, while Siena will be in trouble. That’s the two teams that met the previous two Euroleague seasons in the play offs and had epic battles, plus their last game was a disputed by the Reds road win of Siena by a Bobby Brown coast to coast. Olympiacos filed an objection and then an appeal for the final result, but his protest was dismissed both times.
On the court, Siena has a big problem because of Daniel Hackett’s injury, as it was evident in the two defeats by Khimki and Roma, and also the front line is still weak, as Tomas Ress is not 100% himself yet. Zone defense and outside shooting are expected to be the weapons of Siena, but their front line disadvantage maybe it will not be proven so big, since Giorgos Printezis is injured and didn’t travel to Italy.
Honorable mention: Maccabi Tel Aviv – Khimki
After the road win in Vitoria against Caja Laboral, Maccabi has pulse and hope again. However, the Israelis still have to do a lot in order to get to the play offs. They must beat Khimki and then probably Olympiacos on the road. After dropping two games in a row for their domestic league (for the first time since 2008), Maccabi has to rebound against Khimki.
The Russians have won the first encounter between the two teams with a 21 points difference (88-67) and they are playing a brand of basketball that short circuits Maccabi, as we had predicted before the first game. However, at home Maccabi is a lot better and we expect a big battle. Two key points will decide the outcome. Maccabi’s low post defense and its three points percentage. The Israelis will have to excel in both areas in order to get the win.
Spanish “civil war”: Real Madrid – Unicaja Malaga
Real Madrid has proven again and again that it knows how to win close games, it’s the favorite to get the top spot of its group and hosts Unicaja, which was beaten by the players of coach Lasso two times on the road. The difference is that the guests this time have the biggest motivation to win.
Marcus Williams gave the kiss of life to Unicaja against Panathinaikos, but it’s not enough. Unicaja still one win behind the Greeks who are expected to beat Alba Berlin, so it needs one more road triumph. This is its first chance or else Malaga will have to beat Anadolu Efes in Istanbul. Both tasks are not easy, but it’s the only road towards the play offs for Unicaja. Still, Real is the big favorite and only because of the idiosyncrasies of a Euroleague game between clubs from the same country, Malaga has a fighting chance.
His duty: Panathinaikos – Alba Berlin
After last week’s defeat in Malaga, Panathinaikos lost the chance to lock a spot in the play offs and also avoid Barcelona. Seven minutes of bad basketball in Malaga had a dreadful cost and now the Greens have to win both German teams in order to qualify. The home game against Alba, which was beaten in Berlin, is a must win situation. Only if the hosts are proven to be really bad in their outside shooting and Alba produced its best possible game, there could be an upset. Sofoklis Shortsanitis’ presence in the game is still doubtful due to injury.
Khryapa’s time: CSKA Moscow – Zalgiris Kaunas
This could be a very big game, since Zalgiris has already prevailed over CSKA Moscow on the road for VTB league. However, things have changes. CSKA Moscow has to win in order to continue the hunt of the second spot of the standings, plays at home and its most versatile player, Victor Khryapa is ready to go, as it was proven in its first game after his injury against Lokomotiv Kuban in VTB League. Kryapa makes CSKA an even better team.
On the other side, after its overtime home defeat by Real Madrid, Zalgiris has the slightest of the chances to qualify in the play offs and lost Tremell Darden due to its unstable ownership situation. Can Zalgiris threaten CSKA in Moscow without having a real motive and with two key players less in its roster compared to its road win back in October? Springtime is just starting, but in Kaunas winter is coming…
On the race: Caja Laboral – Fenerbahce/ Ulker
Caja Laboral returned to victories, but it may be too late for the Basques to get to the play offs. Caja with a 5-5 record hosts disappointing Fener and the hosts are expected to win this encounter. The question is if they can start one more run like the one they had in the end of the regular season in order to qualify to the play offs. It’s hard, but still they can do it. For the guests the situation is as bad as it gets, because their best player in Top16, Bojan Bogdanovic is injured in his ACL and will miss the game.
The big Turkish hope: Anadolu Efes – Brose Baskets
Anadolu Efes is in the middle of a stellar Top16 run, has chemistry, efficiency, a 8-2 record and a clear target: The home court advantage in the play offs, in order to get to London! The Turkish team has to outrun CSKA Moscow, which has the tie breaker advantage. Coach Mahmuti’s team is the favorite against Brose Baskets, despite the fact that the German champions are a much better team than their 0-10 record implies.
Known result: Barcelona – Besiktas
Unfortunately we can’t write much about this game. Barcelona, the best team of Top16 hosts the worst and has already beaten Besiktas three times this season. Without even trying, Barcelona should get its record to 10-1.