By Nikos Varlas/ email@example.com
The hour of Top16 judgment is upon us as this week the first round ends in the most thrilling way. CSKA Moscow and Maccabi Tel Aviv will fight for the top of Group F, there are two many key games, three encounters that can be considered “civil wars” and in the biggest of them Panathinaikos hosts Olympiacos at OAKA.
That’s the game everyone wants to see. At OAKA for the eight time in their history the two “eternal rivals” of Greek sports will face each other in a Euroleague game. During the worst financial crisis in modern Greek history, the two powerhouses from Athens and Piraeus have won three of the last four Euroleague titles and if we go back to 2009, the streak is four out of five.
This time the game it’s a must win for Panathinaikos. The Greens after a great start (3-3) have lost three games in a row, while the defending champions are holding the second place in Group E standings with a 4-2 record.
On the court the situation seems simple. The hosts have already beaten the Reds two times this season on their gym, but forcing a slow paced, defensive oriented game. If the guests can react and play faster than Panathinaikos wants, then they will have more than a good chance for a win which will be valuable in their push of getting the home court advantage in the play offs.
It’s not easy to find a traditional European match up with such a long tradition. Those two teams have played each other 31 times and this is a key game as both have a 5-1 record and the winner, together with Real Madrid, will remain the favorite to finish at the top of Top16 Group F.
Coach Messina’s team is coming from the shocking elimination at the quarterfinals of Russian cup, has already beaten Real Madrid in Moscow and needs to go the same against the Israelis. Coach Blatt’s team has already achieved more than many expected and lost only at Madrid after a really close game against Real. It’s a more than an interesting game, between two very different styles of basketball and the final prize seems to be the home court advantage in the play offs.
Fourteen years after sharing the wins in their two Euroleague duels, Efes and Fener will play each other again. Both have a 2-4 record, only Laboral Kutxa has done worst so far in Group E and the win is more than needed for both.
On paper, Fener is stronger, but that is not proven yet in Top16. Despite that, Zeljko Obradovic‘s team should be considered the favorite even on the road against a team that’s slowly transforms itself under coach Aggelou to a consistent defensive unit. It ‘s a must win game for both opponents, because the losing side will start to forget about reaching the play offs.
This is going to be hot! The two opponents have the same record (3-3) and despite not being counted among the favorites of their group before the start of Top16, now they are thinking about the play offs. So the one who gets to four wins, will get the advantage in the race. The hosts have to protect their home court, but the reaction of Unicaja last week against Panathinaikos demonstrated to everyone that the team of coach Plaza is ready to take a step to the next level.
Odom won’t play: Laboral Kutxa – Barcelona
Laboral Kutxa has beaten Barcelona at Vitoria in this season’s Liga Endesa game, but that seems ancient history right now. The hosts (1-5) have huge on court and injury woes, but they gain global publicity by signing former NBA champion Lamar Odom who will have the right to register in Euroleague by next week. That’s why unbeaten Barcelona (6-) is the favorite and even without putting the pedal to the metal, can get the win.
Do or die: Bayern Munich – Lokomotiv Kuban
This is a more than crucial game for Bayern. In theory, a defeat can’t be considered a disaster, but this is a must win situation for the Germans. Coach Pesic’s unit (2-4) is chasing Lokomotiv (3-3) for the fourth spot in Group F standings at those two teams, together with Galatasary, will fight for the last play off ticket.
That’s why Bayern not only needs the win, but also a big point difference in order to get the advantage in a possible tie. If the Russians prevail, then the result will be a huge step towards the play offs. We expect a close and competitive as Bayern will try to run, while “Loko” will try to control the tempo and the rhythm of the game.
A good chance: Partizan – Galatasaray
Partizan (1-5) is much stronger at home, but its injury woes are the biggest obstacle the team has to overcome. That’s why this game for Galatasaray (2-4) is a good chance for a road win against an opponents who is already beaten at home by Lokomotiv Kuban.
A formality: Real Madrid – Zalgiris Kaunas
You can’t say much for this game. Last year the behavior of Rudy Fernandez was the start of a “vendetta” between the Spaniards and the Lithuanians with the reaction of the infamous Macius brothers. But now? Only with a “repeat” by Rudy the game can have some kind of interest…