The second leg of the regular season starts with the first possibility for a team to qualify mathematically to the Top 16. That would be Unicaja Malaga, which is also the sole unbeaten team left in the competition. The action is spread over three days this week, with one game on Wednesday, seven on Thursday and four on Friday
In a special Wednesday tipoff, Real Madrid (2-3) hosts Khimki Moscow Region (3-2), last season’s Euroleague and Eurocup champs, respectively. Khimki ruled their Round 1 showdown, so this one is crucial for the hosts, who share a four-way tie for third place. Expect two of the competition’s top six teams in scoring, rebounds, blocks, three-pointers made and performance index rating to put on a show. Group A also has the Game of the Week on Thursday, with FC Bayern (2-3) welcoming Fenerbahce Ulker (4-1) to Munich. A win is vital for Bayern, which plays only one more home game after this. Also Thursday, two teams coming off huge wins, Strasbourg (2-3) and visiting Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade (2-3) battle over a chance to keep a piece of third – or perhaps even second – place with four games left. Strasbourg won its first two home games, against Madrid and another Final Four team from last season, Fenerbahce, by an average of 14 points.
Two of the hottest teams in the competition, Cedevita Zagreb (3-2) and group leader Olympiacos Piraeus (4-1), face off in the Croatian capital on Thursday to see which will prolong its three-game winning streak. Rebounds could be key: Olympiacos ranks first (40 rpg.) and Cedevita fourth (38.8) on the boards. The same night, Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz (3-2) hosts EA7 Emporio Armani Milan (1-4) as the visitors try to rejoin the group’s Top 16 race. Laboral scores 17.6 more points per game, so Milan will need to raise its league-low 43.2% two-point shooting to have a chance on the road. On Friday, slumping Anadolu Efes Istanbul (2-3) desperately needs to protect its home floor against Limoges CSP (2-3), which has one of its victories on the road. Efes averages more points on the road (89.5) than at home (83.7), while both teams rank among the Euroleague’s best three in three-point shooting accuracy.
The group action begins early Thursday with Zalgiris Kaunas (2-3) welcoming Stelmet Zielona Gora (1-4) to town for the first time with both teams in need of a victory to stay in the Top 16 race. Expect a defensive battle between two of the three lowest-scoring teams through the first five rounds. The only team below them, Pinar Karsiyaka Izmir (2-3) visits co-leader FC Barcelona Lassa (4-1) with the hosts out to get revenge for their sole defeat, back on opening day. Since then, Barcelona has the league’s best defense (67.5 points against). On Friday, the group’s other leader, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar (4-1) travels to Panathinaikos (2-3) at the Olympic Sports Center Athens (OAKA), where the visitors won their only previous meeting in 2014. To retain its perfect home record and keep in touch with the leaders, Panathinaikos must protect the ball against the team with the most steals in the competition (10 spg.).
This group’s drama opens Thursday with a new coach on the sidelines in Tel Aviv as Maccabi FOX (1-4) looks to legend Zan Tabak to spark a resurgence despite a visit from mighty CSKA Moscow (4-1). The visitors lead the Euroleague in scoring (90.5 ppg.) while Maccabi allows the third-most points to opponents (83.4) so expect Tabak to preach defense in his first game. Knowing that a win would make it the first team in the Top 16, undefeated Unicaja Malaga (5-0) hits the road to face its first victim of the season, on-the-rise Brose Baskets Bamberg (3-2) on Friday. The hosts must find a way to limit the visitors league-leading averages in assists (22.2) and offensive rebounds (13.8), numbers that are higher when it plays on the road. And perhaps a last chance to rejoin the Top 16 race presents itself to the last winless team in the competition, Dinamo Banco Di Sardegna Sassari (0-5), as it welcomes Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul (2-3) to the island. Sassari lets opponents score a league-high 87.8 points per game, while Darussafaka comes off a big road win wanting more.
Be sure to follow all the fun over three days this week on Euroleague.TV and Euroleague.net!
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