The latest burst of action in the Turkish Airlines Regular Season gets underway on Thursday with another exciting set of fixtures coming up, including two coaching "debuts". Check out all the best of this week’s action here.
Leaders to topple champs?
Round 11 is saving its best for last as the final tip-off of the week sees red-hot FC Barcelona (8-2) attempt to make it five wins out of five at home with a visit from reigning champion CSKA Moscow (6-4) on Friday night. Top of the table Barcelona certainly flexed its muscles last week, destroying Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv by a remarkable combined total of 49 points. Svetislav Pesic's side has looked every bit like title contenders at the Palau Blaugrana so far this season and another convincing victory over the current trophy holder would further underline that status.
CSKA, though, will be heading into the game with plenty of motivation after suffering consecutive losses in last week's double-round trips to KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz and Real Madrid. Dimitris Itoudis and his players will be determined to avoid suffering a hat-trick of losses in Spain, which could potentially bump them out of the playoff zone, so expect an almighty showdown in a game which will also be notable for in-form shooting guard Cory Higgins making his first appearance against his former club CSKA since joining Barca in the summer.
Can Sakota stop revived Valencia?
On the subject of new faces on the bench, there will be a coaching debut at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall on Thursday night when the experienced Dragan Sakota takes charge of Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade for the first time since being reappointed by the club he also served between 2005 and 2007. Zvezda (3-7) is heading into the game with confidence restored following last week's hard-fought victory at Zalgiris Kaunas, but the same can be said of visiting Valencia Basket (4-6), which has recovered from a 0-5 start to the campaign by winning four of its last five games, climbing ever closer to the all-important top eight.
All of those Valencia victories, however, have come on the team's home court in the encouraging environment of La Fonteta. To make a genuine case for being a contender for a playoff berth, Valencia now needs to start winning on the road and will once again call upon one of the league’s most dependable big men, Bojan Dubljevic, who has averaged 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds so far this season. If Sakota wants to enjoy a debut victory, stopping Dubljevic will be key.
Fenerbahce back in business?
After a false start which lasted nearly two months, fans of Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (3-7) will be hoping that Round 10’s convincing win over LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne will prove to be the start of a resurgence for the Turkish giant. This week Zeljko Obradovic’s men return home to take on Khimki Moscow Region (6-4), tipping off a sequence of five home games out of the next six. A point of particular interest will be whether Obradovic continues to give significant playing time to Vladimir Stimac, who was only signed due to an injury crisis at the start of the season and rarely took a prominent role until last week’s win at ASVEL, where he starred with 21 points and 8 rebounds in nearly 23 minutes on the floor.
It’s not only about Fenerbahce, though, because this is also an important game for a Khimki team which made an excellent start to the season, but lost both games in the double-round week. And if Nando De Colo recovers from injury to line up for the home team against Alexey Shved, it will also be a battle between two of the league’s most potent scorers. Plenty of intrigue in Istanbul.
Real reunion for Ayon
The hottest team in the competition right now is Real Madrid (7-3), which has recovered from an uncharacteristically slow start to the season to string together an outstanding five-game winning run including victories over heavyweight opposition CSKA Moscow and Barcelona. The latest challenge for Pablo Laso’s team is a trip to Russia to face Zenit St Petersburg (2-8), which entails a reunion with former Real star Gustavo Ayon. The Mexican center was a brilliantly consistent performer during his five seasons in the Spanish capital, averaging 9.4 points during his 141 appearances for the club and always playing with the unselfishness to allow his bigger-name teammates to excel.
Ayon is playing at a similarly high level for Zenit, averaging 13.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 steals to belie his 34 years of age. And although it has been a tough start to the season for the Russian team, which has lost the last five games and gone 0-4 at home, you can be sure that Ayon will be keen to greet his old colleagues by derailing their progress up the standings with a shock loss.