By Aris Barkas/ email@example.com
It can’t get any better in the regular season. The 7th week was full of big games and that was proven on the courts all over Europe. In Group A two more teams, CSKA Moscow (5-2) and Barcelona (5-2) got their Top16 ticket, Fenerbahce/ Ulker is no longer undefeated (6-1) and Nanterre (3-4) is one step away from securing their qualification. In Group B behind unbeaten Real Madrid (7-0), Milano (4-3), Anadolu Efes (4-3), Zalgiris (3-4) and even Brose Baskets (2-5) are still in the race. The situation is similar in Group C, as Olympiacos (7-0) is the boss and behind him Galatasaray (4-3), Bayern Munich (3-4), Unicaja Malaga (3-4), Zielona Gora (2-5) and even Siena (2-5) can still hope. In Group D, Lokomotiv Kuban (6-1) has qualified to Top16, Maccabi Tel Aviv (5-2) has to take one more step and then Laboral Kutxa (4-3), Panathinaikos (3-4) and Crvena Zvezda (2-5) are still in the game.
So here are the stars of the night with the biggest being a player that was doubted so far…
We didn’t pick him just because he scored 18 points. After all offensively Nachbar was better (23 p.). Papanikolaou stayed on the court more than of his teammates (34 minutes), had 5/8 shots, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block and 1 turnover, but mainly he held Bojan Bogdanovic to 8 points on 2/9 shots. In the game that Barca needed him the most until now, Pap delivered in the 94-81 win against previously unbeaten Fenerbahce/ Ulker.
- Daniel Hackett: He may leave Siena if the team missed Top16, but with the way he is playing the Italians may survive after all. They did it against Bayern (71-62) as he had 15 points and 10 assists.
- Zoran Dragic: In a do or die game for Unicaja he had 21 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in the 84-67 road win against Zielona Gora. If the Spaniards were defeated, they would be in real trouble.
- Kostas Papanikolaou: The best game so far for him in Barcelona…
- Milko Bjelica: He is the feel good story of the night. His temporary contract ends this weekend, but he is a keeper with 17 points and 6 rebounds in the very important 79-77 win over Panathinaikos.
- Kyle Hines: Simply put, he was the saving grace of CSKA Moscow in the 82-74 road win over Budivelnyk with 18 points and 6 rebounds in 25 minutes of action, doing everything on the defense.
Best losing performace: Dimitris Diamantidis
While Keith Langford of EA7 Milano and Alexis Ajinca in Strasbourg are always putting big numbers despite winning or losing, the effort of 3D in Vitoria was epic. After a disastrous first quarter with Panathinaikos being behing almost by 20, Diamantidis had 18 points on 5/8 threes, 7 assists – and 5 turnovers – but above everything else the chance to win the game with a three. He missed it and couldn’t be the hero this time.
Biggest win: Barcelona
That’s the way to get the Top16 ticket, by beating a previously unbeaten opponent and covering the point difference from the first round defeat. Despite its issues, Barcelona still has pride and talent that was evident against Fenerbahce/ Ulker. Yes, the Turkish team is still building character and chemistry, however this was a test for both opponents and Barcelona got the higher grade. The final 94-81 win reminded to everyone that the season just started, the favorites with talent and depth will be judged later and Barcelona will probably be there to fight until the end.
The surprise: Nanterre
Against a team with great tradition, but not its starting point guard, injured Leo Westermann, Nanterre took the chance and beat by a point Partizan (62-61). It was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, win in the history of the club, which caused national attention in France, as Nanterre is one step away from getting a Top16 ticket. The miracle run which started last season with the team winning the French championship title continues, this time on European level.
The underachievers: EA7 Milano
Against a weak Zalgiris, the Italians had the chance for a win that would make them a virtual lock for Top16. They made a big comeback, but couldn’t finish it. Now, after losing at Kaunas because of a last minute shot by Justin Dentmon (73-71) they are still in danger, showing once again that they are still a work in progress that will probably have a hard time in the next round. After all, even their qualification is not yet a fact.
The disappointment: Lietuvos Rytas
After winning the Euroleague qualifying round and beating Panathinaikos, every one though that Lietuvos will make something out of this season. Since then, they have 6 straight defeats and as you can read in the interview of Jonas Vainauskas, son of the team’s owner and former GM, to Alfta.lt coach Bauermann is in a really difficult position. Also, add to all this already problematic situation the injury of Omar Cook.
Last word: The brawl
At this point you probably heard what happened in Piraeus, we have started a nice little debate about the possible penalty, but the irony of the incident just can’t be described. Not only the game was decided, but before the tip off, Vassilis Spanoulis was honored by the Vatican with the Guiseppe Sciacca sports award. However, not even the Pope could hold back Pops (and Begic) on Thursday.