The drama keeps coming as Round 3 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season delivers another batch of exciting match-ups, including a big local derby between two teams with perfect records. Let's look ahead to the best of this week's action.
New-look Khimki poised for derby upset?
Something has to give when Round 3 action tips off on Thursday with a big local derby between two teams boasting perfect 2-0 records: CSKA Moscow and Khimki Moscow Region.
CSKA has won all five previous home EuroLeague meetings with its crosstown foe, and Dimitris Itoudis's reigning champs are looking in fine fettle once again, brushing aside Valencia Basket and FC Bayern Munich to begin the season in a form which can only be described as "menacing" as far as the rest of the league is concerned.
However, Khimki looks like a different proposition this season, and the team's 2-0 start – gained with home victories over dangerous Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz – suggests that the slew of summer signings will provide a potent punch, even though several big names are still on the injured list.
With the ever-present threat of scoring star Alexey Shved complemented by the explosive powers of Jeremy Evans and Devin Booker, along with the smooth shooting of Janis Timma, this could be the best Khimki team ever seen in the EuroLeague. Winning at CSKA will be no easy task, but don't rule out a surprise.
Fenerbahce desperate for first win
As noted by Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul coach Zeljko Obradovic last week, this is just the start of the season. There is still a long way to go – longer than ever, considering the expansion of the competition – and every team has plenty of opportunity to turn bad into good, or vice-versa, over the next 32 games.
It is also fair to say, however, that Obradovic and his Fenerbahce team need a victory…and they need one now.
There are, of course, extenuating circumstances to Fenerbahce's 0-2 start to the season. The opening round loss came at Real Madrid, where very few visitors ever win, and the Round 2 defeat at Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade saw the Turkish team come up against a hugely motivated opponent and a vociferous crowd. Fenerbahce is not in a crisis by any means.
But Obradovic has never started a season with a 0-2 record in the modern era, and you can bet your last euro that he will do everything to make sure that does not extend to 0-3. Which makes this week's home meeting with KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz – Fenerbahce's first game in Istanbul this season – a must-win affair for Obradovic and his men.
Barcelona on a roll?
Having made headlines in the summer with a bunch of big-name signings, FC Barcelona has immediately started to live up to the hype by winning its first two games on the road against Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Zenit St Petersburg.
Preditctably, one new player to make a particularly big impact is Nikola Mirotic, who scored 24 points in the opening week in Istanbul and then registered a double-double in St Petersburg. After that victory, Mirotic sounded an ominous warning for the rest of the league by insisting he is still settling into his new club and he will get better soon. The same could also be said for the whole team, especially when injury problems that saw four backcourt players miss the trip to Russia begin to ease.
This week, Barca plays its first home game of the season against a dangerous ALBA Berlin team that forced Efes to overtime on the road in Round 2. Coincidentally, the last time these two teams played, in Barcelona in 2015, they went to overtime, as well, with the hosts winning 92-82. Niels Giffey of ALBA and both Ante Tomic and Alex Abrines of Barca played in that game.
If Mirotic and co can keep their 100% record intact, their credibility as serious title contenders will continue to grow.
Imperfect versus perfect
Zalgiris Kaunas goes in search of its first win of the season on Thursday against a Real Madrid team that has tasted only success in its opening two games. Furthermore, this is a fixture which historically ends with a W for the Whites, with Real taking the victory in nine of its ten trips to Kaunas this century.
But anyone who assumes that the Spanish side will simply roll to another triumph in the marvellous Zalgirio Arena this week obviously hasn't been paying much attention over the last couple of years.
Zalgiris, despite its slow start this season, is made of stern stuff, and showed signs in its narrow Round 2 loss at AX Armani Exchange Milan that the uniquely discerning Zalgiris fans can expect to savor plenty more successes over the coming months.
After being blitzed 23-7 in the first quarter, Sarunas Jasikevicius's men bounced back to force an extremely close finale in Milan, showing that none of the coach's trademark durability, game management and fighting spirit have been lost.
Saras, we all know, will put his pieces into place before long, and his players will respond accordingly. The only question is whether it happens as quickly as this week.
ASVEL's dream start to continue?
After watching his team go to 2-0 with a home victory over Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in Round 2, LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne coach Zvezdan Mitrovic admitted he would never have imagined his team's flawless start to the season, even "in our craziest dreams."
Keeping those dreams alive for another week will be the task as the French champions go on their first road trip of the season, visiting FC Bayern Munich on Thursday in a meeting between two teams with relatively little history among European basketball's elite but with seriously big ambitions to stay there long into the future.
Few people would expect ASVEL, in its first EuroLeague season for nearly a decade, to maintain its place near the top of the standings for much longer, and the French club faces a tough task against a Bayern team that is extremely strong in Munich. Going back to last season, the German giant has won eight of its last 10 home games, defeating high-class opponents such as Fenerbahce, Barcelona, Zalgiris and Khimki along the way.
If ASVEL comes through its trip to Bavaria unscathed, Mitrovic might just have to pinch himself again.