One of the wildest races in Turkish Airlines Euroleague history – with only three of eight playoff spots filled with two games left to play – resumes on Thursday with the start of the penultimate round of Top 16 action. Up to four teams total can qualify among four games on Thursday to start Round 13 and four more to close it on Friday. Or the majority of the playoffs spots could remain open until the final day of Top 16, especially in Group F, where five teams with 6-6 records hold third through seventh place. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
In the group opener on Thursday, already-qualified Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar (8-4) hosts Unicaja Malaga (3-9). Lokomotiv can clinch second place and home-court advantage in the playoffs with a victory, but only if both Panathinaikos Athens and Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade lose their games. Lokomotiv boasts the competition’s best defense, which at home has held opponents to league low 63.7 points per game and forced a league-high 16.8 turnovers, while Unicaja scores just 70 points per game, lowest in the Top 16. Later Thursday, Zvezda (7-5) plays at home against Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul (3-9), looking for the win that would send it to the playoffs for the first time in club history. Zvezda is 9-2 at home this season, where its perimeter play makes the difference. Coach Dejan Radonjic’s men have made 42.2% of their threes in front of their fanatic fans, while holding opponents to 29.6% shooting from behind the arc. These two teams also average the most turnovers in the Top 16: Darussafaka tops the rankings with 14.8 on average, while Zvezda gives up 13.8 per game. On Friday, in an all-Istanbul derby, first-place Fenerbahce Istanbul (10-2) hosts playoff hopeful Anadolu Efes Istanbul (6-6). To stay alive in the playoff race, Efes needs to win and hope either Zvezda or Panathinaikos loses. If Efes loses, it would be eliminated and both Zvezda and Panathinaikos would advance to the playoffs. This is third consecutive season Efes and Fenerbahce are squaring off in the Top 16. Fenerbahce has won all five of those previous meetings, including a 73-77 decision in early February. However, Efes arrives with a three-game Group E winning streak and Fenerbahce suffered its worst loss of the season last week. Panathinaikos (8-4) hosts Cedevita Zagreb (3-9) in the last game on Friday knowing that a win would secure it a playoff berth. The Greens arrive having won seven of their last eight Euroleague games, six of which have been decided by 5 points or less. Cedevita has never won on Greek soil and has 1-6 all-time record against teams from Greece.
On a pivotal Thursday, four teams with the same 6-6 record go against each other: Khimki Moscow Region (6-6) hosts Olympiacos Piraeus (6-6) at 19:45 CET in the Game of the Week, and one hour later FC Barcelona Lassa (6-6) welcomes Brose Baskets Bamberg (6-6). Of those four teams, only Barcelona can qualify for the playoffs with a victory, but to do so would need some other results to go its way, too. The loser between Khimki and Olympiacos could get eliminated depending upon other results, too. The Reds beat Khimki 89-77 in Round 6 in Piraeus, but have lost their last five road games, while Khimki is 5-1 in the Top 16 at home. Khimki’s offense ranks third in scoring (83 ppg.) and first in assists (20.1 apg,), while its defense comes up with the most steals (8.5 spg.). Olympiacos is the Top 16’s best offensive rebounding team (15.3 orpg.) over the last three games, but a loss in this one, combined with a win by either Real Madrid or Bamberg, would eliminate the Reds from this tight playoff race. Khimki would be eliminated with a loss if Madrid wins or if Barcelona wins by 10 or more points. Meanwhile, to clinch a playoff spot, Barcelona must beat Bamberg by at least 10 points and hope for victories both Olympiacos and Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz, which hosts Madrid on Friday. On the other hand, Barcelona can also get eliminated if it loses by 4 or more points, while both Madrid and Khimki win. Bamberg defeated Barcelona 75-71 in their Round 6 game and would take a huge step towards securing its first-ever playoff appearance with another victory. Though Bamberg cannot qualify this week, it cannot get eliminated with a loss, either. On Friday, in a rivalry that dates back to 1947, already-qualified CSKA Moscow (8-4) welcomes Zalgiris Kaunas (2-10). An Olympiacos loss a day earlier would clinch home-court playoff advantage for CSKA before this game even tips off. CSKA can get that job done by itself with a victory, and can also clinch first place with a win over Zalgiris combined with a loss by Laboral. CSKA arrives with 16 consecutive wins over Zalgiris, and also as the Top 16 leader in index rating (104.8), scoring (91.7 ppg.) and three-point accuracy (42.6%) and ranks second in assists (19.7 apg.). On the other hand, Zalgiris defensively allows the most points (84.4 ppg.), while struggling offensively with the second-fewest points (71.8 ppg.), dishing the fewest assists (13.8 apg.) and making the fewest threes (4.8) on league-low 30.2% shooting. Laboral (8-4) plays at home against defending champion Madrid (6-6) in the last group game on Friday night. Before tipoff, Laboral will know if it has already qualified, which would happen with either Bamberg or Olympiacos losing on Thursday. If both Bamberg and Olympiacos win, Laboral needs a win to qualify and secure home-court advantage in the playoffs. If both Bamberg and Olympiacos lose, Laboral could also secure home-court advantage even with a loss up to 8 points. Laboral is 3-0 against Spanish teams in the Top 16, including a 68-77 road win in Madrid. Big man Ioannis Bourousis, who won the Euroleague with Madrid last year, had 14 rebounds in that game. The reigning champs cannot qualify or be eliminated regardless of the outcome of this contest, in which Madrid enters ranked second in scoring (83.5 ppg.) and third in assists (19.3 apg.), but also allows the second-most points (83.8 ppg.) in the Top 16.
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