Round 29 is headlined by a clásico with major ramifications for the playoffs race, along with plenty more must-win games as the action heats up in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. Here’s your quick guide to the week’s action.
With sights set on playoffs, Barca visits Real
After mounting a two-victory lead atop the standings, FC Barcelona (20-8) in Round 29 becomes the first team with a chance to qualify for this season’s EuroLeague Playoffs. And if that is not compelling enough, Barcelona also needs a road win at archrival Real Madrid (17-11) to keep that possibility alive. A victory on Thursday night in El Clásico combined with a loss by either Zalgiris Kaunas or Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul on Friday would be enough for Barca to seal a top-eight finish – and also take a giant step towards finishing in the all-important top four. This game is a repeat of the Spanish King’s Cup Final from last month, which was won by Sarunas Jasikevicius’s men, ensuring they’ll feel no fear as they head to the Spanish capital this week. The game is arguably even more important for Real, which is in a congested bunch of six teams separated by just one win between second and seventh place. Real is heading into a brutal schedule which also includes meetings with CSKA Moscow, Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul before the end of the regular season, so there is no margin for error. Pablo Laso’s men have failed to score more than 78 points in any of their last seven games and would need to boost their offensive production against the number one defense in the competition.
Second vs. third as Hines return to Moscow
Another direct battle between two top playoffs aspirants will see CSKA Moscow (18-9) host AX Armani Exchange Milan (18-10) in this week’s opening tipoff on Thursday in a battle between the second- and third-placed teams that will clearly have a major impact on the end-of-season standings. CSKA won their first meeting 87-91 in Milan in Round 17, and so has the confidence of knowing that a head-to-head advantage over Milan is within reach. But the hosts also need to bounce back from a 30-point mauling against Efes last week. One visiting player will receive a very warm welcome as Kyle Hines makes his first return to the Russian capital after becoming one of the greatest players in CSKA’s history during his seven seasons there. Hines made 218 EuroLeague appearances for CSKA, winning continental crowns in 2016 and 2019 as a deeply trusted right-hand man of had coach Dimitris Itoudis. But he and Hines will show little sympathy for each other during a must-win matchup on Thursday.
Red-hot Micic welcomes former club Zalgiris
Arguably the hottest team in the competition right now is Efes (17-10), which has won its last six games and produced some dazzling offensive performances in the process. Ergin Ataman’s men have scored 106, 99 and 100 points in their last three outings, winning those games by an average of 26 points to suggest Efes is ready to carry its dominant form all the way into the playoffs. This week’s opponent for Efes is Zalgiris Kaunas (15-13), which travels to Istanbul on Friday in the hope of reigniting its playoffs challenge after a run of two wins in the last six. Most concerning is that the Lithuanian team has lost its last three road games and only averaged 62.7 points per game in those defeats. Far more points will be required to overcome a rampant Efes offense which could barely be playing with better offensive production. And a particular challenge for Zalgiris will be slowing down its former player, Vasilije Micic, who has outpaced every other EuroLeague player over the last three games with an average PIR of 30.7.
Baskonia seeks bounce-back vs. Bayern
TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz made an unwanted piece of history last week, scoring only 4 points in the opening quarter of its 71-57 loss to Barcelona – the lowest single-quarter points total in the club’s EuroLeague history. That setback ended a run of five straight victories for Baskonia (14-14), which this week has the tough task of bouncing back against an increasingly confident FC Bayern Munich team (18-10) which significantly boosted its own playoffs hopes with consecutive victories in the double-round week. Those victories for Bayern were built on a pair of brilliant performances from leading scorer Wade Baldwin IV, who posted 27 points in both of those wins, over Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, and has now netted in double figures in 11 of his last 12 games. Baskonia will look to counter his threat with the all-action play embodied by Italian forward Achille Polonara, along with the multiple talents of speedy guard Pierria Henry, who leads the league in steals with 1.8 per game and ranks second in assists with an average of 7.3.
Kalinic and De Colo vs. former teams
The week’s action ends with Friday’s last tipoff between Valencia Basket (14-14) and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (17-11), with the locals desperate to pick up a win to close the gap on the top eight, while the visitors aim to keep moving towards the top four. Two of the key protagonists will be players in great form taking on their ex-clubs. Nikola Kalinic spent five seasons with Fenerbahce – winning the title in 2017 – before moving to Valencia in the summer. A series of excellent performances saw him named the EuroLeague MVP for February. An early candidate for March’s MVP honor is Nando De Colo, who scored 20 and 24 points in last week’s victories over Milan and LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne, continuing a superb run of form that has seen him tally at least 20 points and record a PIR of 23 or more in each of the last five games. De Colo’s EuroLeague career started with Valencia in the 2010-11 campaign, the season after he helped the Spanish club win the EuroCup title. A decade on, the French scoring star will have to be stopped if Valencia wants to boost its playoffs hopes.
Seen at: Euroleague.net