Welcome back to the Experts Round Table, where we ask a variety of the most knowledgeable Turkish Airlines EuroLeague followers across the continent their opinions on the topics of the day. This week's panel includes Dusan Ivkovic, a two-time EuroLeague champion coach and and Euroleague Basketball Legend; Arale Weisberg of Israeli website Walla and commentator on Israel radio Kan; Vladimir Stankovic, veteran journalist and longtime EuroLeague.net collaborator; Lefteris Moutis of Eurohoops; and Javier Gancedo, EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge guru and Editorial Senior Manager for EuroLeague.net. Check out their opinions on four key questions about the EuroLeague Playoffs!
1. Which Game 2 road winner is most likely to follow through and reach the Final Four?
"The playoffs are quite unique and difficult. It's impossible to see two of the same games. The best example is how Zalgiris played in Istanbul. After scoring just 43 points in Game 1, they won Game 2 with 82. The key is not just a team's quality, but its capacity for withstanding pressure. The teams that won on the road now have home-court advantage, but the pressure is greater at home. In general, I have seen Efes, Fenerbahce and CSKA looking a little tired and spent. Real Madrid, the only team ahead 2-0, played a tight first game and won, while the other three didn't take advantage of their Game 1 wins. I continue to believe that Fenerbahce will win that series and CSKA could recover, too. That leaves Barcelona in the best position to advance."
"Home-court advantage has been very decisive in the past five years, as 75% of the playoff winners had it to begin with. It doesn't mean that the road to the Final Four will be smooth nor easy: For example, visiting teams have had a 50% success rate in Game 4s – the same as the hosts! Having said that, I'll bet on Baskonia. They are the Final Four hosts, they are hungrier than anyone else, and CSKA Moscow – although it is the better team – looks vulnerable at the moment. This battle reminds me of the Lokomotiv Kuban vs. FC Barcelona series in 2016... Will it be enough for the Basques? I'm not sure, but let's make it interesting and say yes!"
"I think that Barcelona has the biggest advantage. In the regular season, they won 12 of 15 home games, including against Efes, so I see them as the biggest favorite of the three 1-1 series now. On the other hand, Zalgiris has lost seven home games, one of them against Fenerbahce, while both CSKA and Fenerbahce have 10 road wins each this season. So both of those series are open."
"From the start, the most balanced pair in this season's playoffs was Anadolu Efes Istanbul and FC Barcelona Lassa. Now, since the Catalans got a win in Istanbul, they surely have more chances of getting the qualification. KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz and Zalgiris Kaunas pulled off something truly great in Moscow and Istanbul, respectively, but CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul are more experienced and have greater depth and they look like they have more chances of qualifying compared to Efes. Barcelona has several solutions and they can stop the Turkish team through their defense, even though seeing that series go to a fifth game is entirely possible, too."
"FC Barcelona Lassa. It is the highest-ranked regular season team of the three, has already beaten Anadolu Efes Istanbul at Palau Blaugrana and a lot of its players have Final Four experience – and the desire to be there again. Barcelona had a solid regular season mainly by being really strong at home. Only three teams – Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, Olympiacos Piraeus and CSKA Moscow – have won at Palau Blaugrana this season. Barcelona is also 14-0 at home in Spanish League action. That is a combined home record of 26-3, which tells you Barcelona is really comfortable and strong in front of its fans. Efes will need to bring out its best version to steal a win in Barcelona."
2. Which player has been the biggest surprise performer in the playoffs so far?
"It's hard to give just one name. Some of the games were simultaneous, so I couldn't see everyone. Also, I am not in favor of naming an MVP per game in the playoffs; better to do so after the series when we have the final result and complete numbers. The performance index rating says the best have been Vasilije Micic and Vincent Poirier, but no one will remember their good games if their teams don't make the cut."
"I'm guessing that the name of Edgaras Ulanovas will be mentioned around this table more than once, but I have to pick another player: Real Madrid's Jeff Taylor. We all know his athleticism and defensive skills, yet he has been everywhere so far. While he was on the court, Madrid beat Panathinaikos by 28 points in 40 minutes, and while he was benched, they had lost by 10 in 40 minutes. While he has been on the court, super Nick Calathes has made only 2 of 18 field goals! But this is only half of the story: Taylor, a 5 point-per-game player in the regular season, is currently Madrid's leading scorer in the playoffs. He had a total of 24 points in the first two games – exactly what he had in last year's four-game series vs. Panathinaikos."
"Several players have played well and we can expect the leaders to play important roles in the decisive moments, but some players deserve "Oscars in a supporting role." In Game 2, I was impressed by the numbers of Zalgiris point guard Nate Wolters. He played less than 16 minutes, but scored 14 points while shooting 3 for 5 on two-pointers and 2 for 2 on threes and free throws. I remember him from his brief time with Crvena Zvezda, where he also showed his talent."
"Baskonia forwards and EuroLeague rookies Darrun Hilliard and Shavon Shields were excellent in the first two games against CSKA. Adam Hanga displayed his leadership characteristics by leading Barcelona to the break. However, the players who made the biggest surprise with their performances in the first two games of the playoffs are Real Madrid's backcourt duo, Facundo Campazzo and Jeffery Taylor. And if we anticipated this from the Argentine because of his excellent overall performance throughout the entire season, Taylor was the x-factor in Madrid's 2-0 over Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, without many expecting it. Taylor is the main reason that Nick Calathes was almost invisible for seven quarters so far in the series and he was excellent on offense, as well."
"Jeffery Taylor of Real Madrid. Not only he has been one of his team's defensive pillars all season, but Taylor has been hitting a lot of shots, becoming Madrid's unexpected offensive factor in this series. Taylor averaged 5 points and 1.4 rebounds in regular season action before taking over against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. He had 13 points in Game 1 and added 11 in Game 2 for a PIR average of 11.0 - more than twice as much as his regular season numbers, 4.4 per game. His confidence is off the charts; he's made 6 of 9 three-point shot in the series – one of them, a stop-and-pop triple on a fast break, is still being celebrated by Madrid fans. Without Sergio Llull, everyone had to step up and Taylor is delivering."
3. Which series is most likely to reach five games and which team will win it?
"I believe that Real Madrid and Panathinaikos will return to Madrid to play the fifth game. I don't discount the possibility of a fifth game between CSKA and Baskonia, either."
"A five-game series is written all over the Efes vs. Barcelona battle. Tense and tight games, great tactics, many ups and downs, entertaining atmosphere, a lot of pressure and two different winners in the first two matches made all the hopes for this meeting coming true. It will be a waste to say goodbye after only four games. See you in Sinan Erdem Dome next week! I'll stick to my original prediction: Efes, 3-2."
"It seems to me that we'll have at least two Game 5s. If Barcelona has an advantage now thanks to its 12 home wins this season, Fenerbahce and CSKA, thanks to having won 10 road games each, have the right to expect their series to return to their home courts."
"The two biggest surprises in the first games were the victories of Zalgiris and Baskonia, who showed that they can make things difficult for Fenerbahce and CSKA for a little longer and get a win on their home court. The two favorites, correspondingly, have to get a break in order to qualify, and so the most likely scenario is that these two series will go to a fifth game, where Fenerbahce and CSKA can get the qualification for the Final Four. There's a good chance that the Efes-Barcelona series will also go to a fifth game, although the Spaniards are more likely to get two home wins."
"I would say CSKA vs. Baskonia. Like I said before, Barcelona is really, really strong at home and it will be hard for Efes to bounce back – even though this season's playoffs is good proof that anything is possible in the EuroLeague. At the same time, Fenerbahce has been a consistent force all season and it should bounce back at Zalgirio Arena, where a great atmosphere will await the Turkish champs. CSKA will play in the same environment against Baskonia, which is closer than ever to the unique chance of playing a Final Four on its home court. Still, CSKA has enough experienced players who have been together for many years and that is very important in games like this. They have won a lot together and overcome tough times. I believe Baskonia will win one game in Vitoria, but CSKA will advance."