Top 16 Round 11: Playoffs train in motion!

With the qualification of the first playoffs team last week, the rush to get on board the playoffs train continues in Top 16 Round 11, when up to three more teams can advance. This round also features a Game of the Week between two of the greatest sporting rivals in the world. Five showdowns get things going strong on Thursday, followed by three games on Friday

Group E

The only team qualified for the playoffs, Fenerbahce (9-1), hosts Darussafaka Dogus (3-7), which must win to assure itself of staying alive, meet in an all-Istanbul derby on Thursday. Fenerbahce will clinch home-court advantage in the playoffs with a victory and first place should it win and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar lose. Fenerbahce won all four meetings against Darussafaka this season, including a 100-106 affair in Top 16 Round 4, and most recently in a thrilling Turkish Cup final on Bodan Bogdanovic’s last-second triple. Darussafaka still holds slim playoff chances, but could be mathematically eliminated if it loses while Panathinaikos Athens and Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade both win. Fenerbahce’s defense has been rock solid, allowing the third-lowest points (71.7), second-lowest two-point accuracy (46.3%) and third-lowest three-point accuracy (33.2%) to its group opponents, while leading all Top 16 teams in blocks (5.5). Lokomotiv (7-3) pays its second visit to Panathinaikos Athens (6-4) later on Thursday. After having won their previous three meetings, another win over Panathinaikos would qualify Lokomotiv for the playoffs for the first time ever. Lokomotiv may also qualify losing if Fenerbahce, Crvena Zvezda and Cedevita Zagreb all win. Lokomotiv has the Top 16’s best defense (68.5 ppg.) and forces league-high 15.3 turnovers. Panathinaikos, which had its five-game winning streak snapped last week, ranks second in steals 7.8 and third in forced turnovers (15), but has struggles shooting from long range, with the second-fewest triples made (6.4) at second-lowest rate (32%) in this phase. On Friday, Anadolu Efes Istanbul (4-6) and visiting Cedevita (2-8) also square off for the fourth time this season. Cedevita has won two of those games, including a 75-81 regular season win in Istanbul, but is in a must-win situation this time. It is almost as such for Efes, which already depends on other results to survive. Although it ranks third in offensive rebounding (11.7), Efes has lost its last two home games and, after being the best three-point shooting team in the regular season, is making only 33% at home in the Top 16. Cedevita, meanwhile, has lost six in a row and would be mathematically with another loss or if both Panathinaikos and Crvena Zvezda win. Unicaja Malaga (3-7) will host Crvena Zvezda (6-4) on Friday knowing by then if Panathinaikos has won and therefore it must win to avoid elimination. Unicaja’s offense has struggled with the lowest scoring average (70.1) in the Top 16, but the team ranks first in offensive rebounding (13.9) and snapped a six-game losing streak last week at Cedevita. Zvezda could make history on Friday by clinching its first playoff appearance with a win, but only if both Efes and Darussafaka will have already lost their games. Zvezda hold opponents to league-low 29.8% three-point shooting, while it makes a third-best 54.2% of its two-pointers. Zvezda also ranks third in getting to the free throw line, averaging 20 attempts and making 15 of them per game.

Group F

In a clash for the outright possession of first place in the group, CSKA Moscow (7-3) hosts Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz (7-3) on Thursday. In their first meeting two months ago, Laboral won 81-71 behind 19 points and 13 rebounds from big man Ioannis Bourousis, who won co-MVP honors that week. Since they first met seven years ago, CSKA holds 10-3 record in head-to-head matches, and has never lost at home to Laboral. But this Laboral squad leads the Top 16 in rebounding (39.7 rpg) and has its best two-point (45.6%) and second-best three-point (30.4%) defense. CSKA, meanwhile, leads in average performance index rating (108.4), scoring (92.7) and three-pointers accuracy (43.6%), a number that rises to 48.3% on its home floor. CSKA will qualify to the playoffs with a victory if either Khimki Moscow Region or FC Barcelona Lassa also win. Khimki (5-5) pays a visit to Brose Baskets Bamberg (4-6), which is 7-2 in Brose Arena this season. In Top 16 home games, Bamberg makes a league-best 11.3 three-pointers per game at the second-best rate of 47.9%. Although Bamberg is last in offensive rebounds (6.5) and Khimki first among road teams (13.3), the visitors are giving up 95.5 points per road game away and are 0-4 away from home in the Top 16. Khimki leads this phase with 9 steals per game, however, and has enough offensive weapons to rank first in assists (20.8) and third in scoring (84.1). In a Game of the Week that will be seen far and wide, Barcelona (5-5) hosts arch-rival Real Madrid (6-4) in a rematch of their earlier Top 16 thriller. This El Clasico is pivotal for both teams as they cling to playoff positions with four games left in the Top 16. Barcelona beat Madrid in the Spanish capital by 86-87 in January when Justin Doellman hit his first buzzer-beating game-winner of the Top 16, much as he did last week in overtime against CSKA. The two Spanish giants have played each other 23 times in Euroleague history, and Barcelona holds an 9-1 record in home games between them. Madrid’s lone road win came in Game 2 of the 2010 playoffs, but it arrives this time with a three-game winning streak away from home. Madrid ranks second among Top 16 teams in average PIR (98.7), scoring (85.3), and assists (20.3). Barcelona on its home floor in the Top 16 ranks second in scoring (87.8) and two-point accuracy (56.1%) and third in assists (19.4). In a the lone Friday game in this group, a must-win for each team, Olympiacos Piraeus (4-6) faces Zalgiris Kaunas (2-8) at Peace & Friendship Stadium. While the Reds need a win to stay within a victory of the playoff spots with three game left, Zalgiris will be mathematically eliminated with a loss. Zalgiris comes in the game ranked second in the Top 16 in offensive rebounding (12.5), but hits league-low 30% three-point shooting and makes fewest triples (4.8). Olympiacos commits second-fewest turnovers (10.9), and has a solid 7-2 record on home floor this campaign, and with three of its last four games there, the Reds will try to use this one to push for the spot in the playoffs.

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