The Top 16 closes in Round 14 this week with Group E settling one question – which two of four already-qualified playoff teams will finish second and which one third – while Group F decides a lot more. Its top two teams will battle over first and second place. But its third and fourth places, the final two playoff spots on offer, are to be decided among five teams currently within a single victory of each other. It’s possible that all of the questions in both groups are answered by four games on Thursday, but depending on those results, a couple of possibilities could carry over to the two latest games of four on Friday
Second place and therefore playoff home-court advantage will be decided in Istanbul, where both Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and Panathinaikos Athens visit already-eliminated opponents. Lokomotiv (9-4), which visits Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul (4-9) on Friday, will be second with a victory or if Panathinaikos (9-4) loses against Anadolu Efes Istanbul (6-7) a day earlier. For Panathinaikos to be second, it must win first and then see Lokomotiv lose a day later. The first part of the equation will be known on Thursday when Efes hosts Panathinaikos. The visitors, winners of eight out of their last nine games, know they cannot finish worse than third. Panathinaikos forces the second-most turnovers (15.4) and makes the second-most steals (7.9) in the Top 16. Darussafaka welcomes Lokomotiv on Friday to end its debut season at home. Lokomotiv is strong on both ends of the floor: it makes a league-best 10.7 threes per game and forces the most turnovers (15.8), while Darussafaka commits the second-most turnovers (14.5). The remaining two games in this group are also scheduled for Friday. A pair of Adriatic League foes, Cedevita Zagreb (3-10) and fourth place Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade (7-6) face each other one last time in the Croatian capital. They have played five times in two competitions this season, with Zvezda winning the last three. That streak includes a 94-74 victory in Top 16 Round 7, and a pair of victories last month in the Adriatic League playoff semifinals. Cedevita will hope to finish its first ever Top 16 campaign on a winning note, while Zvezda will attempt to snap a two-game losing streak ahead of the playoffs, which it will enter from fourth place. The game that will close Group E features Unicaja Malaga (3-10) hosting first-place Fenerbahce Istanbul (11-2). Game is for pride only as Fenerbahce has secured first place while Unicaja is eliminated. Unicaja is the best offensive rebounding team in the Top 16 (13.2), but scores the fewest points (69.2) and has the lowest three-point percentage (31.2%). Fenerbahce has allowed at least 86 points in the last two games, after holding opponents to an average of 71.5 in the first 11 games of this phase.
In the first game on Thursday, Zalgiris Kaunas (2-11) welcomes FC Barcelona Lassa (7-6) for their fourth meeting this season. While it’s the last game of this Euroleague campaign for the hosts, Barcelona aims for a victory that would secure a playoff berth and prolong its season. Barcelona is 3-8 on the road, including a 78-85 regular season decision in Kaunas. But Barcelona’s sole away win since November came on a buzzer-beater. A Barcelona victory clinches third place and would automatically eliminate both Brose Baskets Bamberg and Olympiacos Piraeus, who play later Thursday and Friday, respectively. Barcelona can only fail to qualify if it loses while Bamberg, Khimki Moscow Region and Olympiacos Piraeus all win. Bamberg (6-7) hosts already-qualified Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz (9-4) needing its own victory plus others by Zalgiris, Olympiacos and Khimki to go through. A Laboral win would keep alive its chance to finish as the group winner. Bamberg is 9-1 in its Brose Arena this season, where ranks among the best three home teams in the Top 16 with 83.8 points and 44% three-point shooting. Laboral’s defense holds opponents to a league-low 48.1% two-point accuracy and to the third-lowest three-point accuracy, 32.4%. Also on Thursday, Real Madrid (6-7) hosts Khimki Moscow Region (7-6) in a do-or-die battle. Khimki qualifies for the playoffs with a win, and is eliminated with a loss. Madrid is eliminated if it loses, too, while a victory qualifies the defending champs unless Zalgiris, Laboral and Olympiacos all win, too. In their fourth game this season, Khimki has already won twice, including by 82-85 in Madrid in Regular Season Round 6. But Madrid won their only Top 16 battle in Khimki, 82-93. Khimki ranks second in Top 16 scoring (84.3) and Madrid third (83.9). Khimki leads Top 16 in assists (20.2) and Madrid is third (19.1). But both allow a lot of points: Madrid 84.2, second-most in this phase, and Khimki 81.2, the fifth most. In the lone Friday game, Olympiacos Piraeus will know before it hosts already-qualified CSKA Moscow if it has been eliminated or not. The only hope for Olympiacos is if Zalgiris, Laboral and Madrid all won already on Thursday. CSKA knows it will finish in first place with a win or if Laboral loses a day earlier. Olympiacos has a solid 9-2 record at home this season, but CSKA arrives as the Top 16 leader in index rating (105.6), scoring (92.3), three-point accuracy (42.7%), while ranking second in triples (10.5) and assists (19.5).
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