Clashes in Athens, Kaunas and Vitoria Gasteiz, as well as the recent form of rebounding king Felipe Reyes and former champ Ricky Hickman, are some of the key storylines to watch in Round 17 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season.
Can veteran Reyes outshine league’s leading scorers?
The head to head battle between the top two scorers in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is a clear highlight of Round 17, and all eyes will be on Alexey Shved (21.8 ppg.) and Luka Doncic (18.1 ppg.) when Khimki Moscow Region and Real Madrid square off on Friday. But another key performer will be veteran Madrid center Felipe Reyes, who has been enjoying one of his best runs of form in years in recent games. Without being unkind, at the start of the season it appeared that the competition’s all-time leading rebounder might be gradually fading out towards retirement, having barely featured at the end of last season and not playing at all in the semifinal defeat against Fenerbahce. However, injuries have given Reyes another opportunity to show his value, and he has responded superbly – especially during his team’s current five-game winning run. Reyes has scored in double-digits during each of those five games, the first time he has done so since the 2014-15 campaign. And his per 40 minutes performance index rating of 24.6 is the 15th best in the competition, confirming that the league’s oldest player still has plenty to offer.
Panathinaikos seeks revenge against on-the-charge Barcelona
Revenge will be in the air when Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens welcomes FC Barcelona Lassa to the Olympic Sports Center on Thursday. The Greek champion suffered a humbling 98-71 loss against Barcelona when the teams met in Spain in the opening week of the season, and Coach Xavi Pascual will certainly be looking to put the record straight against his former team. The game also provides Barcelona with a big test and a major opportunity. After seemingly dropping out of playoff contention by suffering five straight losses and sinking to 4-10, Coach Sito Alonso’s players have shown their true potential with back-to-back victories over Moscow teams Khimki and CSKA and are now within two wins of the top half of the standings. Most encouraging for Barcelona was the highly convincing manner of those two victories, and a triumph in Athens would further strengthen the growing impression that Alonso’s team is poised to have a major say in the playoff push between now and the end of the season.
Will Olympiacos extend magic spell over Baskonia?
Visiting Fernando Buesa Arena is never an easy task for opposing teams and in recent years it has been especially difficult to escape a trip to face Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz and its passionate fans with anything but a chastening defeat. Different players and coaches have come and gone, but the outcome has generally been the same with Fenerbahce, CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid, Panathinaikos and many more all suffering losses in Vitoria in the last couple of campaigns…but there has been one exception: Olympiacos Piraeus, which has won six consecutive games against Baskonia including two on the road.
This week Olympiacos will seek to extend that winning sequence to seven and make it a hat-trick of triumphs at Fernando Buesa Arena and it could be a pivotal game for the home team, which has suffered a dent in confidence by losing three of its last four games and next week faces a trip to Real Madrid. There would be no better way for Baskonia to get back on track than by burying its jinx against Olympiacos.
Zalgiris and Unicaja desperate to escape losing spiral
Throughout their respective teams’ long winning runs, Zalgiris Kaunas and Unicaja Malaga coaches Sarunas Jasikevicius and Joan Plaza regularly expressed caution, emphasizing how easily victories can turn into defeats in the ultra-competitive environment of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. And now, the two coaches are desperately hoping that those words don’t become true as they attempt to get back on track by facing each other in Kaunas on Friday. Zalgiris had won five games in a row before seeing that sequence ended in last week’s loss at Crvena Zvezda, while Unicaja’s four-game winning run ground to a halt with a narrow home defeat to Valencia. Losing, of course, is something that happens. But the best teams rarely suffer the fate of dropping two or more in a row, and that unwanted outcome lies in wait for whichever team is vanquished this week. That would threaten to undo all the good work undertaken by Zalgiris and Unicaja during December, while the winners will be able to reflect on the previous week’s setback as a rare blip in an otherwise hot streak. The stakes will be high at Zalgirio Arena.
Hickman looking for spark in former home
Two of the worst-performing teams in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague in recent weeks, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and Brose Bamberg, have the chance to turn things around when they meet in Israel this week. Maccabi’s unpredictable nature is shown by the fact that its only victory in the last five games came against reigning champ Fenerbahce, while Brose’s problems on offense are illustrated in its failure to score a single field goal in the final 6:20 of last week’s narrow home loss to Khimki. Brose – which has lost four in a row – will be particularly hoping that an offensive spark can be provided by high-profile summer signing Ricky Hickman, who has averaged just 6.5 points in his last four games and made just 1 of his last 13 three-point attempts. This week, of course, Hickman will be in familiar territory as he returns to take on a Maccabi team he starred for during the 2013-14 title-winning season, so there is no better place than Tel Aviv for his scoring touch to return.