Round 12 contains one of the biggest games of any Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season as Greek giants Panathinaikos OPAP Athens and Olympiacos Piraeus go head to head, while Anadolu Efes Istanbul attempts to maintain sole ownership of first place. Look ahead to those games and more with our quick guide to this week’s action.
Greek giants aim to maintain positive vibes
A few weeks ago, Panathinaikos (7-4) and Olympiacos Piraeus (5-6) would have been heading into their local derby showdown at OAKA with a sense of fear and trepidation after both got out to poor starts to the season. But the two Greek teams have experienced a positive turn in fortunes since then with Olympiacos winning three of its last four games while Panathinaikos is on a three-game winning run and has been buoyed by the return of Coach Rick Pitino, who enjoyed a triumphant start with last week’s thrashing of KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz.
The absence of Olympiacos from this season's Greek League means that meetings between the old foes are rarer and therefore more precious than ever and a red-hot atmosphere is guaranteed. Keeping a cool head and playing to respective strengths – Panathinaikos shooting from distance through Jimmer Fredette and DeShaun Thomas; Olympiacos feeding the ball inside to Nikola Milutinov and Georgios Printezis – will be a prerequisite, and the backcourt battle between team leaders Nick Calathes and Vassilis Spanoulis cannot be missed. Don’t take your eyes off this one for a second.
Will Efes keep on rolling?
Can anybody stop the scintillating backcourt of Anadolu Efes Istanbul? Last week’s Shane Larkin-inspired rout of FC Bayern Munich, coupled with FC Barcelona’s home defeat against CSKA Moscow, means that last season’s runner-up Efes is now alone at the top of the standings with a 9-2 record, stringing together a five-game winning run based on thrilling offensive firepower. Larkin, of course, took the headlines with last week’s record-breaking 49 points, which helped him earn the title as November’s EuroLeague MVP. But Vasilije Micic is also enjoying an outstanding season with impressive averages of 15.4 points and 5.6 assists, making him the perfect partner to Larkin’s shooting heroics.
The latest team attempting to stop the offensive juggernaut is KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (5-6), Larkin’s former team. And the Spanish side has plenty of motivation as Coach Velimir Perasovic – who had two past stints as Efes boss – seeks to bounce back from last week’s 32-point hammering at Panathinaikos. Baskonia’s backcourt has been hampered by a long-term injury to Patricio Garino, but the Basque club must find a way to offer serious resistance to the Larkin and Micic show. If not, Efes will surely stay on top for another week.
Maccabi to hand out another thrashing?
After finding itself on the receiving end of Larkin’s brilliance last week, now FC Bayern Munich (4-7) has the task of venturing into another extremely tough venue for any away team with a trip to face Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv (7-4). The Israeli champion is perfect at home this season, making it five out of five at Menora Mivtachim Arena with a thumping 93-62 victory over ALBA Berlin in Round 11. That game was notable for the return of Angelo Caloiaro, who had been overlooked by Maccabi during the opening weeks of the season but made a solid season debut and, according to Coach Giannis Sfairopoulos, will now be included in the roster on a regular basis.
Maccabi is becoming a specialist at racking up resounding victories, having already recorded winning margins of 31, 30, 26 and 25 (twice) points this season. When Maccabi wins, it generally wins big. Bayern, on the other hand, is desperately struggling on the road, having lost all five away games so far by a combined margin of minus-107.
A mighty home team against a struggling away team…the outcome might seem straightforward, but this Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season has already taught us to expect the unexpected.
Zalgiris in need on milestone date
Thursday’s opening tip-off will see a milestone reached as Zalgiris Kaunas (3-8) plays its 400th game in the modern era of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague with a (relatively) short trip to face historic rival CSKA Moscow (7-4). The Lithuanian champion will not want to be reminded that 11 of its previous 399 games have been played away to CSKA…and all of them have been won by the Russian giant. So Sarunas Jasikevicius’s men would love nothing more than marking the club's milestone moment with a first-ever road win at CSKA, especially as it would end a five-game losing streak which has sent Zalgiris plummeting down the standings into the next-to-last position.
Last week saw CSKA send out a serious message with an awesome road victory at Barcelona (even including a career-first three-pointer from Kyle Hines), thus ending a two-game losing streak and giving a sharp rebuke to anyone who had considered writing off the reigning champion. The biggest difference between the sides this season has been three-point shooting accuracy: CSKA ranks second in the league with 42.1% of long-range shots converted, while Zalgiris is dead last with only 31.4% of three-pointers made. So it’s clear that limiting the scoring opportunities for long-range snipers such as Mike James, Janis Strelnieks and, ahem, Hines will be a key task for Saras and his men.
Barca and Khimki aim for bounce-back
That 67-96 defeat at home to CSKA in Round 11 was a serious jolt for Barcelona (8-3), which had been sitting pretty at the top of the standings with a perfect home record until the reigning champ flexed its muscles with a near-flawless road display. After the game, Barca coach Svetislav Pesic argued that his team’s lackluster display was chiefly the result of fatigue among his players, suggesting that he will employ a greater rotation of his roster during a busy December, with until now little-used players such as Pau Ribas, Rolands Smits, Artem Pustovyi and teen guard Leandro Bolmaro set to receive more time on the floor.
The first test for that strategy comes on Friday evening on the road against the other team from the Russian capital, Khimki Moscow Region (6-5), which is also in need of bouncing back after a run of three straight losses. In particular, Khimki would love to see a return to form for scoring star Alexey Shved, who was restricted to 12 and 11 points – his two lowest tallies of the season – in the last two games, making just 7 of his 26 field goal attempts. Stop Shved, stop Khimki: it’s not quite as simple as that for Pesic and his players, but certainly a good starting point.