By Nikos Varlas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
If you missed so far the Euroleague season, now it’s a great time to tune in. Seven games are left until the end of Top16, the play offs are coming, the deadline for transactions ended and a roller-coaster ride starts with Milan being the final destination. However, also this week the Italian city is the center of interest…
This is a game that can be the key even for the outcome of May’s final four, which will be held in the same city. The hosts and Panathinaikos are sharing the same 4-3 record, they are both chasing the home court advantage in the play offs – which in Euroleague has been proven more than important – and the game between them will be a major factor in the final standings.
If EA7 Milano gets the win, then it will have the advantage over the Greens and the second goal of the Italians will be to cover the -16 points difference from their defeat at OAKA (73-57), a task that seems really hard. However, Panathinaikos can turn the tables with a road win and create a huge advantage against EA7 Milano in a possible tie.
The Greeks will not have injured Ramel Curry, but Zack Wright is expected to make his return to Euroleague after spending regular season in Brose Baskets. We expect a low scoring, close game, unless EA7 scorers and specially Keith Langford have an other opinion. It’s a make it or break it game for the hosts, if they want to be present in their city’s final four.
Fener (3-4) hosts the Euroleague champions (4-3) in a game which can be considered a “final” for the Turkish team. There’s no margin for a home defeat and Fener will be ready for a fight, having two new members in its roster, Blagota Sekulic and Pierre Jackson who is expected to make his European debut.
After losing last week at OAKA, Olympiacos can’t afford one more defeat, or else the goal of getting the second place in the standings will be more than farfetched. The Reds will have for the first time in Euroleague Jamario Moon and also Giorgi Shermadini, but once more the spotlight will shine on Vasilis Spanoulis and his feud with Zeljko Obradovic. After going their separates ways in the summer of 2010, there is a beef between the two of them and V-Span exploded in the first game against Fener with 28 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds.
We don’t expect to see again a high scoring game – Reds got a 95-82 win at SEF – and Fener has on the back of its mind the -13 points difference, which may play a role in the final standings.
Lamar, you are on: Laboral Kutxa – Unicaja Malaga
Both teams are trying to get back in the play offs race and the losers, specially if it’s Laboral Kutxa (1-6), will have to focus in the near future just in Liga Endesa. Unicaja (3-4) is in much better shape so there are two possible scenarios. Either coach Plaza and his players will get revenge for their defeat in the first game of Top16 and will continue their effort to finish on the top four spots of the standings, or the team of coach Scariolo will stay alive and make the play offs run of Unicaja even more complicated.
There is also an X-factor and the game and his name is Lamar Odom. The former NBA champion will make his debut with his new team and it remains to be seen if he can be a game changer.
Last chance: Anadolu Efes – Barcelona
After losing to Fenerbahce, Anadolu Efes (2-5) has to react against unbeaten Barcelona (7-0) in order to keep the hope alive for the play offs. The Catalans are the favorites, but Efes has much bigger motive and considering the mess between the second and sixth position, a win can still get them back into the race. Under coach Aggelou, Efes is playing more like a unit, cares about defense, but in order to beat a team like Barcelona, the Turkish team has to play far beyond its usual standards.
A Russian afair: CSKA Moscow – Lokomotiv Kuban
After beating Maccabi Tel Aviv, CSKA Moscow (6-1) has its domestic issues to settle just before their travel to Madrid where the top of Group F will be decided. Lokomotiv Kuban (3-4) is the main rival of CSKA in domestic competitions, however the “army team” is producing lately great basketball.
Even with a defeat in Moscow, Loko knows that in order to get to the play offs, the must win games will be played against Bayern Munich and Galatasaray, however the players of coach Pashutin with Anton Ponkrasov being the new face will fight for the best.
Maccabi Tel Aviv (5-2) will play against the Turkish champions (3-4) and needs the win in order to close to the top of Group F. For Galata, it’s a game in which the win will provide an extra boost in its play offs’ hopes.
Can Carlos Arroyo “kill” his old team and surprise Euroleague? Maccabi is the favorite, because of “Nokia Arena”, Andrija Zizic will try to fill some front line holes, but it seems that the game will be decided by guards.
Defeat is forbidden: Bayern – Zalgiris Kaunas
Bayern is a new comer in Euroleague, but has a 3-4 record and play offs hopes. That’s why against Zalgiris Kaunas (1-6), defeat is not an option. After all the Germans got the road win in Lithuania, so they can do it again.
Easy one: Real Madrid – Partizan
Ιf you are into betting, then this is easy. Real Madrid (6-1) is arguably the best team so far in the league, its uptempo, spectacular style is a joy to watch. Partizan has young talent (1-6) but many injury woes, so the only question seems to be the final score.