Round 24 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is headlined by one of the most famous fixtures in European basketball as local rivals Olympiacos Piraeus and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens go head to head. There are also lots of exciting games in the race for the playoffs so check out our guide to the action here.
Valencia and CSKA aiming to bounce back
CSKA Moscow (16-7) is facing one of its toughest situations in many years as it heads into Thursday's testing road trip to Valencia Basket (11-12). The reigning champion, despite occupying second place in the standings, has lost four of its last six games after going down at home to FC Bayern Munich last week. That was an even more costly defeat as it also saw the loss of star center Nikola Milutlinov, who is set to miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. CSKA has also been suffering turbulent times behind the scenes with the suspension of shooting star Mike James, but the competition's leading scorer has now been reintroduced to the roster and is available for this week's trip to Spain.
Valencia has also been struggling lately, losing its last three games and six of the last seven to drop out of the playoff zone. The home team may well focus its efforts inside in an attempt to exploit the absence of Milutinov as both teams aim to turn the corner this week.
Barca and Efes renew acquaintance
A big battle is assured on Thursday night in Barcelona, where the in-form league leaders (17-6) will host an explosive Anadolu Efes Istanbul (12-10) team currently positioned just outside the playoff zone and desperate to find consistency as the season heads into the final stretch. A rivalry has been developing between the two teams in recent years and this week’s meeting at Palau Blaugrana will be their 12th since March 2018. The matchup has been extremely closely contested with Barca winning five of those 11 most-recent games and Efes taking the other six, including an 86-79 victory just over a month ago in Istanbul.
Barca has responded from its tough December to climb into first place on the back of six wins in a row largely due to excellent defense. Efes has partially turned around a worrying position by winning four of its last five games. Efes star Shane Larkin was just rounding into full form, but an injury picked up in domestic action over the weekend could call his participation into doubt. But with Nikola Mirotic back for Barcelona and Efes's star backcourt of Larkin and Vasilije Micic hopefully intact again, this promises to be a must-watch encounter.
Can Fener keep going without Guduric?
The hottest team in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague right now is Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (13-10), which has reeled off eight straight victories to climb away from near the foot of the standings and into the all-important top eight. However, that dramatic turnaround in form coincided precisely with the arrival of Marko Guduric for his second spell at the club, and the swingman could be in for a spell on the sidelines after suffering an injury in domestic action on Sunday.
The first game for Fener to prove it can win without Guduric is a tough one at home to Zenit St Petersburg (13-8) on Friday. Zenit has every motivation to end the Turkish team’s run as it looks to bounce back from consecutive close-fought losses in Barcelona and Milan last week and can take confidence from competing hard despite suffering defeats in those two games. Zenit head coach and defensive mastermind Xavi Pascual will be sure to draw up plans to slow down the red-hot duo of Nando De Colo and Jan Vesely and Fener may have to dig deep to make it nine in a row.
Greek derby with playoffs implications
The latest edition of the famous Athens derby between Olympiacos Piraeus and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens will take place at Peace and Friendship Arena on Friday night and it will have a big impact on the race for the playoffs between two teams who are aiming to break into the top eight in the coming weeks.
Olympiacos (11-12) has specialized in extremely close games over the last few weeks, with four of its last seven games being decided by exactly 2 points – resulting in two wins and two losses. Panathinaikos (8-14), meanwhile, has a lot of ground to make up in its quest to climb the standings, but a positive start under recent hire Coach Oded Kattash continued with a thumping 91-72 victory over Valencia last time out. This season’s first meeting saw Olympiacos take a 71-79 road win in Round 2 on the back of 17 points from veteran star Georgios Printezis, but these are two teams in transition mode with lots of influential new faces, so it could be time for new heroes to emerge in Greece this week.
In-form ASVEL aiming to upset Milan
LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne (9-14) has fully shrugged off a slow start to the season to win its last three games and four of its last five, allowing the club to keep alive its hopes of challenging for a top-eight place. This week ASVEL can make a real statement of intent by keeping its winning ways despite Friday’s visit of AX Armani Exchange Milan (15-7), which is also in outstanding form and placed third in the standings after winning six games in a row.
ASVEL’s upsurge in form has been firmly based on defense, holding its opponents to 78 points or less in each of its four recent wins. Maintaining that defensive toughness will not be easy against a Milan team blessed with decisive players all over the court. With 82.4 points per game, Milan is the second-highest scoring team in the competition and the recent return to fitness of veteran sniper Vladimir Micov adds further depth to an already dazzling array of talent. A high-scoring shootout would not favor ASVEL, so the home side will attempt to control the game tempo.