By Nikos Varlas/ email@example.com
The 4th gameday of Top16 will be equally divided on Thursday and Friday. And what makes things interesting this time is that for the first time many teams will feel real pressure in order to get results and not lose more ground in the qualification race.
Τhat’s a choice not only based on the talent of those teams but also their need for victory, which in both cases is big. EA7 Milano (1-2) made a good start in Malaga, but needs much more in order to get back on track and that certainly means defending the home court, given the fact that Nizhny already won in Italy. Fenerbahce/ Ulker (1-2) is in a similar position, already lost two home games and that can be fixed only on the road.
Fenerbahce had already beaten twice Milano in the regular season. The offensive talent of the Italians can be the key for them. The guests have improve drastically on defense during the last two games, but they have to manage better their offense, getting all players involved. The possible presence of Ricky Hickman in the game can be a key factor.
Two great clubs in Euroleague, which have won 14 titles combined will meet up for their 25th game of their history and Real until now has two more wins than the Greens. Having in mind the way the Spaniards play at home and the Greeks on the road, the hosts (3-0) are clear favorites. The key for Panathinaikos (2-1) will be to control the rhythm in order to stop the transition game of Real. It remains to be seen if the loaded but problematic front line of Real can take advantage of the Greens problems in the paint. Also the absences of Panathinaikos, make things even more difficult.
The question: Is there any gas left?
Niznhy (1-2) has gain the respect of Europe and the numbers of the team in Top16 are very similar to those of Anadolu Efes (2-1)! Both teams are defensive oriented, they have good five on five plays and they know how to read miss-matches. The chemistry of the hosts is evident and they are a solid team. However the guests have a deeper roster and more quality. The question is simple at this point. Has Nizhny already reached its ceiling, or there’s more gas left in the tank? The answer can be given only on the court.
Under the microscope: Barcelona – Crvena Zvezda
Who could expect that Barcelona (1-2), the “king” of consistency during last seasons, will have already two defeats in Top16! The Catalans are hosting Crvena Zvezda (3-0), a team that after a great regular season needs oxygen in order to stay alive in the play offs race. Barcelona has been hit by injury woes, seems unstable and has great defensive issues, specially in the paint. Still they play at home, they have more quality and much more experience. It will be interesting to see if the Catalans will control the game and get what they want without pressure, or if the Serbs will have the chance to “steal” the win. We also expect a big duel between two old school centers, Tomic and Marjanonic. This will be the first game between their two teams after their meeting in the 1999-2000 season.
The four home courts
In Kaunas, Zalgiris (1-2) hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv (2-1) which has a streak of seven wins against the Lithuanians. It’s an unpredictable game, but you can be sure on what will be the most decisive factor. The hosts must control the rhythm, play good individual offense and protect their paint. They have to be tough, not give anything easy and also improve their offense compared to their recent games. The champs have more talent, they love to play uptempo, but on the road that’s not always easy.
In Piraeus, Olympiacos (3-0) hosts Laboral Kutxa (1-2). If you look at the numbers, the guests seem to be better in some of them, but their results can’t be compared to those of the Reds. Also the Greeks have the best Top16 defense (69.1 ppg) and a streak of 10 wins at home. Defense can be enough in order to get their fourth win.
In Moscow unbeaten CSKA Moscow (3-0) hosts the leader of Liga Endesa Unicaja Malaga which still tries to get a win in Top16 (0-3). The hosts are the favorites, even if Weems misses also this game after last week’s absence in Istanbul. All the Russian has to do is protect the boards – Unicaja is the best team in offensive rebounds – and play good back court defense. CSKA has won eight out of their nine last meetings.
Finally in Istanbul, Galatasaray (2-1) has the advantage against Alba (1-2) which is still unstable outside Berlin. The Germans have to make fewer turnovers than usual and find a way to content Carlos Arroyo. Still Galatasaray at home has the first word.