By Nikos Varlas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The battle for the play offs is in its final stage as we are reaching the 9th gameday of Top16 and the game in Piraeus between Olympiacos and EA7 Milano is the most important this week. There’s no margin for error for anyone and specially as the Greek and the Italians Reds will fight, the champs could be in real trouble in case of a defeat. Also the game between Barcelona and Fenerbahce/ Ulker can be the key for the Turkish come back, while Lokomotiv Kuban will try to beat Maccabi Tel Aviv after losing already three games to the Israeli powerhouse.
Game of the week: Olympiacos – EA7 Milano
The Euroleague champions have lost two road games the last two weeks, have a 4-4 record, Vasilis Spanoulis is hurt, he will not play and the duo of Mirza Begic and Jamario Moon is out of the team with the American forward having played just six minutes in Euroleague.
On the contrary EA7 Milano has the second place in the standings (5-3) and the golden chance to be established as the favorite for the home court advantage in the play offs, behind Barcelona in Group E. The Italians are in much better shape and they are improving game by game, despite the fact that also Keith Langford’s presence is a gametime decision.
However, Olympiacos always plays better with its back against the wall. The Greeks need this win, after losing by 30 in Milan (81-51) and Giorgi Shermandini is expected to be used for the first time after returning to his old team. It will be a hard to predict game and the outside shooting percentage of both teams will be more than crucial, as both teams seem to be guard oriented.
Honorable mention: Lokomotiv Kuban – Maccabi Tel Aviv
The hosts (3-5) lost in the details the chance for a big win in Moscow last week and now against Maccabi (6-2) they want to get their fourth win in order to stay on the race for the fourth place in Group F’s standings. Lokomotiv just needs this win.
Maccabi, despite its problems in the paint, because of its injury woes, in the recent weeks doesn’t have many ups and downs on the court and so far has won three times Lokomotiv Kuban this season, two in Tel Aviv and one in Krasnodar in Euroleague’s regular season. Still, this time Lokomotiv has the biggest motive ever.
Invinsible: Barcelona – Fenerbahce/ Ulker
Barcelona remains the only unbeatable team in Top16, thanks to Semih Erden block out blunder last week in Istanbul, and the Catalans are now hosting Fenerbahce. The 8-0 record gives them a safe distance and makes them almost a lock for the top spot of Group E. That’s why Zeljko Obradovic and his players hope that they can steal this win and continue their come back in the race for the play offs. A win in Barcelona will give them a huge advantage for the qualification.
Still Barcelona is a much more mature team, plays as a unit and is always effective. Barca under coach Pascual is also a team that never seems “indifferent” on the court. Will the need of the win push Fener to be better? We will know on Thursday night.
Blocking out: Unicaja Malaga – Anadolu Efes
The game in Istanbul was a thriller, Unicaja with a 4-4 record have solid qualification hopes and that’s why the Spaniards have to protect their home courts in order to stay at least a part of the four way tie in Group E standings.
Anadolu Efes (2-6) is a much better team than it was in the start of Top16, but after losing last week an almost won game against Barcelona is by default the underdog. Unicaja just can’t afford to be beaten by an opponent which is almost out of the play offs race. If the team of coach Plaza manage to control the rhythm and push the tempo of the game, will get what they want, but if Efes stay close until the last minutes, then everything can happen.
Green dominance: Panathinaikos – Laboral Kutxa
Panathinaikos (4-4) hosts Laboral Kutxa (1-7) in what was supposed to be the first European road game of Lamar Odom – he didn’t travel to Greece after all – and that’s almost the only thing worth mentioning about this game. The Greek defensive machine is even stronger at home, the team of coach Pedoulakis needs the win and the guests are coming from seven straight Euroleague defeats. We just can’t see how Laboral Kutxa can be really competitive in this game.
A chance: Galatasaray – Real Madrid
The hosts (3-5) will try to take advantage of their home gym against Real Madrid (7-1) and they hope that the Spaniards are already thinking about the play offs. Galatasaray has to try and get the upset, specially after giving a great fight in Madrid. On the other hand, this game depends mainly on Real’s performance and we don’t speak only about its spectacular offense. Coach Laso’s team still has the best defense in the league, allowing just 69.1 points per game.
Tradition: Ζalgiris Kaunas – CSKA Moscow
Once upon a time, this was the biggest rivalry in the former Soviet Union. Zalgiris is always obliged to put up a fight when CSKA is in town, but with a 1-7 record and after missing captain Jankunas for the next month can’t hope for much this time around. The Russians are on the opposite side of the spectrum (7-1) and they don’t want to lose ground before traveling to Madrid for the game against Real. It also has to be noted that CSKA lost in Kaunas for the last time back in the 1999-2000 season.
Game for one: Partizan – Bayern Munich
Battling with injuries and having just a 1-7 record, Partizan already seems focused on ABA Liga’s Final Four. That’s why Svetislav Pesic’s Bayern travels to Belgrade as the favorite in order to get its 5th win in Top16 and make one more step towards the play offs. Still, the Germans will have to beat not only the players, but also the always loud fans of Partizan and no one can underestimate the fighting spirit of the Serbs.