By Nikos Varlas/ email@example.com
I’ts the 5th week of Euroleague’s Top16, it will be followed by the only break in the second phase of the competition in order for the cups final eights around Europe to be held and the question is if we will have a team with an early, but important lead in the standings which can give an real advantage in the race for the play offs home court advantage. Yes, there are four games on Thursday and four on Friday, but we are talking about the clash between Panathinaikos and Barcelona.
Game of the week: Panathinaikos – Barcelona
Two European powerhouses with a long history of big games between them are facing each other at OAKA. The Catalans are unbeaten (4-0), but also Panathinaikos has a respectable 3-1 record. The Greens hold the second place in the standings and if they beat Barca, they will be on the path to finish at the top two spots of the group.
In the same gym in 2011 and 2013 two epic play offs series were held, last year the stands were more than packed and ere are estimations for an unofficial total of 30.000 fans in the stadium, which resulted to a penalty by Euroleague to Panathinaikos for security reasons.
As always, it will be a really close game. Panathinaikos will try to alter the offensive game of Barcelona and will hope for an efficient night in three point accuracy, while Barcelona will try to impose its offensive tempo by taking advantage its many scoring option. The control of the tempo will be the key, but also the defensive performance of Lasme and Gist. Specially if they get into foul trouble or they have an off night, Barcelona will have an easier task to do.
After beating Panathinaikos and avoiding a 0-4 start, Obradovic‘s team will try to continue winning against Milan, which almost won last week in Istanbul, but Planinic’s miracle shot killed the Italians and kept them at 2-2. It’s a key game for the future of the group.
Coach Banchi and his players have the highest motive in this game in order to prove that they have the tools to fight for the play offs. On the opposite side, Fener has already its back against the wall. If they get a road win, then they the pressure will be less in the coming games, but if they lose, then the goal of getting to the play offs will remain really difficult.
Fener has the talent, but not many quality guards and stability during the game and this battle can be a test for the “new” Milano. Moss, together with newcomers Lawal and Hackett will be once again the keys for the balance of the team in a possible win.
That could be the game of the week, as Real (3-1) after its first defeat for the season, hosts unbeaten Maccabi (4-0) in Marid. However, allow us to consider the Spaniards the great favorites for the win against improved but still problematic Maccabi. It was evident in last season’s play offs that the Israelis couldn’t keep up with Real and now the hosts want to return on top of the group standings. Add to that the fact that Maccabi will have to live from now on without Shawn James, so only a great shooting night can help Blatt’s players to stay competitive. Still, we vote for Real and we believe that Maccabi will not stay perfect in Top16 after the visit to Madrid.
One more time: Olympiacos – Unicaja Malaga
Olympiacos reacted last week and got the win in Vitoria (2-2), but also Unicaja despite its defeat at Barcelona (2-2) was more than competitive. During the regular season the Reds have beaten Malaga both times, but every night is different and Malaga seems more mature and ready at this point.
After all both teams have the same record, it’s an important game and it will probably be decided by the defensive focus of Olympiacos. In their gym, the Greeks have just to play defense in order to prevail over most opponents. If they don’t and Malaga finds its rhythm during the game, then nothing can be excluded.
A new start: Bayern Munich – CSKA Moscow
Bayern introduces itself in the basketball world and now the Germans will face for the first time one of the traditional powerhouses of the sport in Europe. After all Bayern (2-2) will have to defend its home court against any opponent in order to get to the play offs and it will have to do the same against CSKA Moscow (3-1). The Russians beat Real last week without Hines and Weems, but lost in VTB to Khimki.
The fans of Munich are expected to fill the stands one more time and two teams with a completely different style of basketball will face each other. As always coach Messina’s first goal is to control the tempo and expects from his team to “read” correctly every situation, while Bayern plays uptempo basketball, with many possessions and tries to score on transition. It will be an interesting game and the outcome will be hard to predict.
Milko’s game: Laboral Kutxa – Anadolu Efes
After losing both to Olympiacos and Panathinaikos at Vitoria, Laboral Kutxa can’t afford one more home defeat. And here’s comes Anadolu Efes after two big wins, one in Euroleague thanks to Planinic’s buzzer beater and then in TBL over Galatasaray. The Turks are on the rise, there’s no favorite in the game and what we expect to see is Laboral Kutxa’s reaction. This game also marks the return of Milko Bjelica in Vitoria after his release by the team at the end of the regular season, despite the fact that he was the second leading scorer of Laboral Kutxa after he was added as a temporary replacement because of the team’s injury woes.
It’s a must win game specially for the hosts, who have a 1-3 record and they are facing Zalgiris, the only team left in Top16 without a win yet (0-4). Add to that the defeat of Galata by Efes on Monday’s TBL clash, so the Turks have to do something. On the court that means good defense and control of the tempo, as Zalgiris is a classic team of rhythm. The outcome is at the hands of coach Ataman’s players, but they should show respect specially to Justin Dentmon.
Welcome: Partizan – Lokomotib Kuban
Partizan (1-3) lost Milosavlevic, Tepic and there is a question mark for Lauvergne, was badly beaten in Israel, but now the Serbs return to their home and they will have their incredible crowd. Lokomotiv will face for the first time Partizan inside “Kobank Arena” in front of 20.000 or even more fans. The Russians are not the best road team, Partizan despite its problems finds ways to survive in Belgrade and that’s why we expect a low scoring dogfight.