After a dramatic Round 8 featuring two overtime games and offensive fireworks galore, the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague returns with a bang on Tuesday at the start of the season's second double-round week. Drama, intensity and excitement is guaranteed, so get yourself ready for the action right now with our guide to this week's biggest games.
And then there were... six!
The relentlessly competitive nature of the EuroLeague is amply illustrated in the unprecedented fact that six teams are tied for a share of first place with 6-2 records.
With every team playing twice in this jam-packed week of action there is plenty of potential for major movement at the top of the table, with several head-to-head meetings between the early pace-setters.
The first of those comes on Tuesday, when AX Armani Exchange Milan welcomes red-hot Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, which has won six games straight and triumphed by 30 points on the road in its last outing at KIROLBET Baskonia-Vitoria-Gasteiz.
On the floor where its most recent title triumph took place, Mediolanum Forum, the growing sense that Maccabi can emulate the heroics of its 2014 counterparts will be tested in a game that could well become a long-range shoot-out: Milan has the best three-point conversion rate in the league (44.3%), while Maccabi's storming win in Spain last week was founded upon a club-record 17 triples.
Can Khimki prove itself on the road?
Another big showdown on Tuesday night comes in the Spanish capital, where Khimki Moscow Region (6-2) will attempt to maintain its position as co-leader against a Real Madrid team (5-3) that has used a three-win streak to climb in the standings and boasts a 4-0 record at home.
Khimki's strong start will be seriously tested in the next couple of weeks, with this trip to Madrid kicking off a sequence of three road games, including meetings with Valencia Basket and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul.
Nobody would question the offensive potential of a Khimki team with Alexey Shved, who leads the league in scoring (21.3 points per game) and also ranks third in assists (6.0). But the Russian team's resilience on the road still has to be proven: Khimki was 3-12 away from home last season and has already given up 90-plus points in losses at CSKA Moscow and Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade in this one.
To dispel the notion that Khimki is fragile on the road, Rimas Kurtinaitis's men will have to claim a few major scalps on their travels. Real Madrid would be a pretty good place to start.
Real, CSKA stage Final Four rematch
On the subject of Real Madrid, it's impossible to miss one of the last tip-offs of the week as Los Blancos play host to reigning champ CSKA Moscow on Friday night.
The game is a rematch of the dramatic semifinal between the teams in last season's Final Four, and Pablo Laso's team – with a virtually unchanged roster from that encounter – will surely feel they have a point to prove after letting a 14-point advantage slip in the thriller in Vitoria-Gasteiz.
For CSKA, the personnel will be very different following a summer of change compounded by the absence of Final Four MVP Will Clyburn through injury. But one man who witnessed that semifinal as a spectator was Mike James, who attended the game as a special invitee after receiving his Top Scorer Trophy at the Final Four's Awards Ceremony.
Now, of course, James has moved to CSKA and is heading into the double-round week in flying form, scoring 31 points on 6-of-8 three-point shooting to earn the MVP of the round honor in last week's win over Fenerbahce. So Real might be on a revenge mission, but they'll have a mighty and equally motivated James to contend with along the way.
Barca and Fener aim to bounce back
Pride and a lot more will be on the line in a meeting of big guns on Wednesday evening, when FC Barcelona (6-2) hosts Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (2-6), with both teams looking to get back on track after suffering emotional losses last week.
Barcelona's strong start to the season was derailed in the worst possible way: a Clasico loss to arch-rivals Real Madrid, which saw Svetislav Pesic's men give up 32 points in the first quarter before their comeback mission fell short after scoring just 12 points in the final quarter.
Fenerbahce's need is even greater. The Turkish powerhouse is tied for the worst record in the standings. Last Friday's heavy loss at CSKA Moscow provoked a furious response from coach Zeljko Obradovic, who will now be eager to see an immediate reaction from his team at Palau Blaugrana.
Barcelona is so far unbeaten at home, while Fenerbahce has gone 0-5 on the road. Will those sequences stay intact on Wednesday night? It will be fun to find out.
Efes and Micic face road test
Last season's runner-up, Anadolu Efes Istanbul, is looking more than capable of mounting another strong challenge this time around, heading into this week's contests with a 6-2 record and a share of first place.
But Ergin Ataman's side face a major challenge with a pair of road games in Rounds 9 and 10, starting off with Tuesday's trip to take on a LDLC ASVEL team that has won every game so far in Villeurbanne, including taking the scalp of CSKA last time out.
Then, on Thursday, comes another tough task at AX Armani Exchange Milan, where Efes has fallen to defeat on each of its last four visits, including an 81-80 thriller last season after a buzzer-beating game-winner by Mike James.
A key moment in that loss for Efes came when Vasilije Micic missed 2 late free throws that could have put the game out of Milan's reach. Right now, though, Micic is the hottest player in the competition after scoring 27 and 24 points in his last two games, converting 18 of 22 field goal attempts in the process. And perhaps more pertinent, considering last season's trip to Milan, is that Micic has also made his last 23 consecutive free throws. Time for him to bury some bad memories?