The home stretch of the Top 16 begins in Round 8 as teams begin meeting their group opponents for the second time. With just three victories separating third and last place in each group, all teams are very much alive in the playoffs hunt. Just two road teams – Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz – won when these teams met back in Top 16 Round 1. This time around, there will be a six-pack of showdowns on Thursday and one game from each group on Friday
Action starts in this group with Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul (1-6) vs. Unicaja Malaga (2-5) at 18:30 CET on Thursday in their fourth meeting this season. The home side has taken all three victories so far. Darussafaka forced Unicaja into 24 turnovers when it won at home in the regular season; Edwin Jackson scored 20 to lead Unicaja to victory in their Top 16 opener. Both need wins urgently to keep their playoff chances intact. Unicaja is the best offensive rebounding team in the league with 13.5 per game and 14.7 in the Top 16. Next, at 19:00 CET, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar (5-2) looks to extend its undefeated Top 16 home run against visiting Cedevita Zagreb (2-5). Lokomotiv has the best defense in the competition this season with just 69.9 points allowed per game plus a formidable attack led by Malcolm Delaney, who was the Top 16 Round 1 MVP after torching Cedevita for 31 points and 8 assists in a 75-89 victory. Cedevita has lost three straight games and will be highly motivated to score its fifth road win of the season to strengthen its position in the playoff hunt. In the only Group E game this week between teams with winning records, Panathinaikos Athens (4-3) hosts Fenerbahce Istanbul (7-0) in the Game of the Week at 20:15 CET on Thursday. In addition to owning the only perfect record in the Top 16, Fenerbahce boasts the second-best offense in the phase (86.3 ppg.), but it will be tested by the Greens, who rank second in defense, allowing just 72.1 points per game this season. Fenerbahce beat Panathinaikos 82-75 in their previous meeting behind another standout game from center Ekpe Udoh. In the group’s lone Friday contest, Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade (4-3) welcomes Anadolu Efes Istanbul (3-4) to Millennium Center in Vrsac at 20:00 CET. Efes won by 1 point in Istanbul on a late Dario Saric jumper when these teams last met, but Zvezda has lost to only one team at home this season. Aggressive defense – Zvezda has committed the most fouls (22.3 per game) among Top 16 teams this season – has helped Zvezda find success, and Efes is second-worst among Top 16 teams in free throw shooting (68.4%). But Efes is the second-best three-point shooting team (41.7%) and a big game from downtown can always make the difference.
When one win is the difference between third place and seventh place, it is clear that Group F is full of excitement. Action tips early Thursday with a derby in the Russian capital as CSKA Moscow (5-2) meets Khimki Moscow Region (4-3) at 17:00 CET. Apart from the rich history of their cross-town rivalry, the teams’ styles set this up as an exciting duel. CSKA has the best attack in the competition this season, but Khimki counters with one of the toughest defenses. CSKA leads the league in scoring (90.3 ppg.), three-pointers made (165) and three-point accuracy (42.2%); Khimki tops the charts in steals (8.6 spg.) and blocked shots (4.9 bpg.). Khimki edged CSKA 91-89 on a mid-range jumper by Alexey Shved with 1.1 second left in Top 16 Round 1. Upstart Brose Baskets Bamberg (3-4) will try to remain unbeaten in home games in the Top 16, but hosts the defending champion Real Madrid (4-3) in Arena Nuerenberger Versicherung in Nuremberg, Germany on Thursday at 20:00 CET. Bamberg has 6-1 record when playing home games this season, and held opponents to 62.3 points in its last three home games in its Brose Arena, but this time in Nuremberg faces a serious challenge in Los Blancos, who lead the league in assists (20.5 apg.) and are second in scoring (84.7 ppg.). In their previous clash, Bamberg led for three quarters, but Madrid rallied to win 82-79 behind Sergio Rodriguez, who scored all of his 22 points after halftime, including a three-pointer with 20.7 seconds left to break 77-77 tie. Then, at 20:30 CET, Laboral Kutxa Vitoria-Gasteiz (5-2) will put its four-game winning streak on the line against Zalgiris Kaunas (1-6), which is looking to stop a three-game slide. Laboral has the Top 16’s second-ranked defense, which allows just 72.4 points per game, while Zalgiris is averaging just 73.9 points in this phase. League-leading rebounder Ioannis Bourousis sets the tone for the Euroleague-best rebounding team (39.1 rpg.). Zalgiris has taken the second-fewest rebounds in the Top 16 (30.9 rpg.). In the event of a close game, it is worth noting that Laboral (80.4%) and Zalgiris (79.4%) are ranked second and third, respectively, in free throw accuracy this season. Laboral featured five scorers in double figures when it beat Zalgiris in Top 16 Round 1 by 21 points on the road. The final game of the round features a pair of great rivals: FC Barcelona Lassa (3-4) hosts Olympiacos Piraeus (3-4) on Friday at 20:45 CET. These teams have already met twice in Euroleague championship games and faced off in a fantastic playoff series last season that the Reds won. Between Juan Carlos Navarro of Barcelona and Vassilis Spanoulis of Olympiacos, the game also features the Euroleague’s top two scorers all-time! Olympiacos bested Barcelona 74-62 in Piraeus behind 11 points and 9 assists from Spanoulis in their previous Top 16 game.
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