Round 13 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season is highlighted by a big local derby for the league leader and some big-time matchups on a week that will celebrate the bonds between clubs and their communities. Here is your guide to the best of the action.
Backcourt stars galore in Istanbul derby
Anadolu Efes Istanbul (10-2) has been playing magnificent basketball the last few weeks, winning six consecutive games to claim sole ownership of first place in the standings and surpassing the 100-point mark for two consecutive weeks to blast aside FC Bayern Munich and KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz by a combined total of 54 points. The latest test for Ergin Ataman’s high-flying team is no less than a local derby trip to face Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (5-7), which is starting to gather serious momentum after claiming a third consecutive victory with an overtime triumph over ALBA Berlin last week.
The game is, of course, a rematch of last season's EuroLeague semifinal won in impressive fashion by Efes – in large part thanks to a stellar performance from Shane Larkin. And the backcourt battle promises to be compelling once again this week, with Larkin in stunning form after registering PIRs of 53 and 37 in the last two games and Vasilije Micic also enjoying an outstanding season. But Fener also has powerful weapons, with the win over ALBA seeing Nando De Colo return to action with 18 points while Kostas Sloukas claimed the MVP of the Round award with a double-double of 23 points and 10 assists. Larkin and Micic versus De Colo and Sloukas... who you got?
Injury-hit Maccabi faces stern challenge
Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv (8-4) maintained its strong challenge for the playoffs with a thumping 77-55 home win over Bayern Munich last week, maintaining its perfect record at home. But the victory came at a high cost as guards John DiBartolomeo and Nate Wolters both suffered injuries that will sideline them for lengthy periods, leaving Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos scratching his head for backcourt rotations and placing even greater responsibility on the shoulders of the always-willing Scottie Wilbekin.
Deni Avdija, Elijah Bryant and Tyler Dorsey are all likely to receive additional playing time in the absence of DiBartolomeo and Wolters and the first test for short-handed Maccabi – which is also missing dynamic forward Omri Casspi – is a mighty one indeed: reigning champion CSKA Moscow (8-4), which travels to Tel Aviv with the mission of breaking the tie for fourth place between the teams and becoming the first visitor to win at Menora Mivtachim Arena this season. Maccabi’s home form has allowed the Israeli champion to amass the best point differential in the competition (plus 125), but maintaining that form without two key players against CSKA will surely be a major challenge.
Panathinaikos aims to reverse trends at Barcelona
Like Fenerbahce, another overtime winner last week was Panathinaikos OPAP Athens (8-4) after surviving a thrilling local derby against Olympiacos Piraeus. The Greens have now won four games in a row to move into a share of fourth place, but this week sees Coach Rick Pitino's team face another tough encounter with a road trip to second-placed FC Barcelona (9-3).
This is one of the most frequently-seen matchups in European basketball over recent years, with Friday’s game in Spain providing the 35th meeting between Barcelona and Panathinaikos this century. The home teams have been dominant of late, winning the last eight games in a row (four apiece) in a sequence dating back to March 2015. You must go back even further to find the Greens' last victory at the Palau Blaugrana: a playoffs triumph in April 2013 which ultimately proved fruitless as the Spanish side bounced back to win the series 3-2. So Panathinaikos will be very much battling against recent history as it attempts to win five games in a row, but they say that records like these are meant to be broken.
Can Real make it seven in a row?
Last week’s derby loss was tough to take for Olympiacos (5-7), but the spirited nature of the performance was a further indication that Coach Kestutis Kemzura's team is equipped to make a serious challenge for the top eight over the next few months. This week, however, the Reds face arguably the biggest task in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague with a road trip to take on Real Madrid (9-3), which has put together a six-game winning run to move within one win of first place.
Real's traditionally strong form at home has been maintained again this season, with Coach Pablo Laso's team winning all seven of its outings at WizInk Center, averaging 104 points in its last three home games to blast past Khimki Moscow Region, CSKA Moscow and Valencia Basket. With Facundo Campazzo dishing dimes, Anthony Randolph in great scoring form and Walter Tavares dominating the paint, Real is once again a major force. Stopping Los Blancos in the Spanish capital is something Olympiacos has only done twice this century and would be a major scalp for Kemzura and his men.
We Are All One Team
From Barcelona to Istanbul and from Belgrade to Kaunas, a shared message will prevail in Round 13: We Are All One Team. This week’s action in both the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup has been designated as the annual One Team Games, showcasing the work carried out in local communities by the 42 clubs in the two competitions as part of Euroleague Basketball’s social responsibility program.
One Team was launched in 2012 and since then has helped thousands of vulnerable people by using the power of basketball as a force for good, and this week several events will be taking place at every game to champion the successes of the program. All players and officials will be wearing specially designed laces, and participants in local One Team activities will be invited onto the court to join players in the pregame line-ups and to entertain the fans during the halftime intervals. If you're attending any games this week, make sure you stand up and show your support loud and proud for One Team.