There is plenty of festive fun to enjoy as Round 16 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague arrives early, on Tuesday and Wednesday, and delivers a series of showdowns with direct implications for the playoffs race.
Big guns seeking bounce-back
Tuesday’s early action includes a firecracker as two big teams aim to bounce back to winning ways with Anadolu Efes Istanbul (7-8) taking on FC Barcelona (11-4). Efes is currently positioned outside the playoffs positions after suffering two defeats last week, going down to a sobering 35-point loss at CSKA Moscow before being beaten at home by AX Armani Exchange Milan. The Turkish team has now lost four of its last five games and has desperately struggled for offense during that run, with an average of only 67.8 points per game, while shooting star Shane Larkin averaged just 4 points during last week’s losses. It is also an opportunity to bounce back for Barca, last seen losing its share of the top spot by suffering a home defeat against Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv. That game saw Brandon Davies sit on the sidelines with a calf injury and he is doubtful to return on Tuesday night. Efes could seek to exploit his absence by grabbing inside dominance through Bryant Dunston and former Barca center Tibor Pleiss in a game that both teams will feel they have to win.
Maccabi and Panathinaikos battle to keep climbing
Victory at Barcelona last week was a welcome turn of events for Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team after Maccabi had become accustomed to losing close games rather than winning them. Maccabi has lost seven games this season by 4 points or fewer, but reversed that trend by prevailing 67-68 at the Palau Blaugrana thanks to an alley-oop connection between Scottie Wilbekin and Othello Hunter with 13 seconds remaining and a resolute final defensive stand on Barca’s last possession.
Maccabi (6-9) has now won three of its last four games and is starting to build momentum, with the aim of proving the point that its position in the lower half of the standings is false. Round 15’s visitors to Tel Aviv, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens (5-9), have a similar mission and will be bolstered in confidence by its performances last week, when a double-overtime loss against Real Madrid was followed by a solid victory over ALBA Berlin. These are two of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, with Maccabi averaging a third-best 11.3 offensive boards and Panathinaikos close behind with 11.0 per game, so establishing control of the glass could be a key to the outcome.
Real aim to overcome Randolph loss
Real Madrid (10-5) is heading into Round 16 on the back of a remarkable week in Greece, where the Spanish side gained overtime victories over both Panathinaikos and Olympiacos Piraeus to make it four wins in a row and nine out of the last ten. However, those triumphs came at a high cost with an injury to Anthony Randolph, who faces a prolonged spell on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on an Achilles injury sustained during the win in Piraeus. On Tuesday night, Real will attempt to shrug off the loss of Randolph in a visit from ALBA Berlin (6-8), which has climbed to the fringes of the playoffs positions but ran out of steam on its own trip to Panathinaikos last week. By a quirk of the schedule, ALBA will be playing its third consecutive road game and fifth in six, before returning to Berlin for three straight at home to bridge the old and new years. The German team’s main task in this showdown will be finding a way to counter Real big man Walter Tavares, who leads the league in rebounding (7.5 rpg) and blocked shots (2.0 bpg), and ranks fifth in PIR (19.3).
Impactful coaches go head to head
Perhaps the two new coaches to have made the most positive impact so far this season meet in Wednesday’s early tipoff, when Martin Schiller of Zalgiris Kaunas (8-7) will welcome Andrea Trinchieri’s high-flying FC Bayern Munich (10-5) to Lithuania. Schiller, a newcomer to the EuroLeague, will be relieved that Zalgiris turned around his rookie season by ending a six-game losing slide with a run of three straight wins. This is Zalgiris’s third home game in a row, and the first two were comfortably won on the back of outstanding offensive performances that yielded 92 and 99 points to overcome TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, respectively. Zalgiris converted a magnificent 34 of 56 three-point attempts (60.7%) during those two games, so stopping points on the perimeter will be a clear priority for a Bayern defense that has done exactly that all season. The visitors have allowed opponents to convert just 32.7% of their three-point shots, second-best in the competition, so Zalgiris’s sharpshooting exploits will face a tough examination this week as the visiting team seeks to protect its position in the top four.
Consistent Shields facing former club
AX Armani Exchange Milan has a real feel-good factor ahead of the festive season after improving to 9-5 with back-to-back road wins in Istanbul over Efes and Fenerbahce last week. Those victories sent the Italian team into fifth place in the standings, looking forward to closing out 2020 with consecutive home games after playing its last four on the road. Round 16 sees a visit from TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (6-8), which is currently in 11th place after losing three games in a row. Milan, of course, has plenty of star names following its busy summer of acquisitions. But its most consistent player is someone who maybe deserves more attention: Shavon Shields averages 13.1 points per game after scoring in double figures in 10 of 14 games this season, also providing 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game for a team-high average performance index rating of 14.4. This week’s game will be the first for Shields against his former team since spending his first two EuroLeague seasons with Baskonia. He will aim to remind the Spanish side what it is missing and keep Milan climbing up the standings.