The race for the playoffs continues with 11 games this week, including an early start on Monday night and a must-watch Istanbul derby. Here's your guide to the impending action.
Key week at home for Zenit
The week's action starts straight away with a rescheduled Round 5 meeting between a pair of playoffs-positioned teams as Zenit St Petersburg (14-9) hosts AX Armani Exchange Milan (16-8) on Monday night. Morale is high in both camps, after Zenit snapped a three-game losing streak with a 75-76 thriller at Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade last week, while Milan has won seven of its last eight games after hammering Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv 87-68.
This could be a key week for the playoffs ambitions of Zenit, which will also host one of its closest challengers for a top-eight berth, Valencia Basket (13-12), on Thursday. That matchup promises to be a straight-out fight between Zenit's defense and Valencia's offense. The Spanish team boasts the second-best offense in the competition, averaging 82.2 points per game on the back of a league-high 58.9% two-point conversion rate. But Zenit's defense is the league's second-best, as well, allowing just 75.0 points per game. The playoffs picture will look very different at the end of the week if head coach Xavi Pascual's men can hold firm at home on Monday and Thursday.
Zalgiris aims to prolong Real's home woes
More early action takes place on Tuesday as playoffs aspirants Zalgiris Kaunas (13-11) heads into a must-win home game against Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade (7-17) in a fixture originally scheduled for Round 24. A sure sign of the ultra-competitive nature of this season's race for the playoffs is that Zalgiris's positive record isn't enough for a place in the top eight, yet the Lithuanian team is still only two victories shy of the top four. The team currently occupying that much-coveted fourth spot at the top of a three-way tie is Real Madrid (15-10), which is also Zalgiris's second opponent of the week, on Thursday in the Spanish capital. Real is suffering a surprising number of setbacks at home, losing three of its last four EuroLeague games in Madrid while also losing to FC Barcelona in the recent Spanish King's Cup final at the WiZink Center. Zalgiris has won only once in the Spanish capital this century. If they can start this week by beating Zvezda at home, Martin Schiller's men will take extra confidence on the road for Thursday's crucial showdown at Real.
De Colo vs. Larkin in Istanbul derby
One of the most eagerly awaited games of the whole season will take place on Friday as Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul hosts Anadolu Efes Istanbul for a crucial local derby between two teams in fantastic form. Fenerbahce has won 10 consecutive games to jump up into sixth place with a 15-10 record, one win better than Efes (14-10), which is also in flying form with three straight victories and six out of the last seven. Among the many reasons to watch this derby is a stellar backcourt battle between two of the league's biggest stars. Shane Larkin has endured an injury-disrupted season but has hit top form now, picking up last week's MVP award with a PIR of 32 in victory over Olympiacos Piraeus. That just edged out De Colo, who had a PIR of 31 in Fenerbahce's latest win against ALBA Berlin.
Larkin has averaged 18.4 points over his last seven appearances, making at least 2 three-pointers in each. De Colo has been even better, averaging 20.7 points in the last seven games and registering a PIR of 28 or more on four occasions. Either of them is more than capable of landing the game-winning blow in a showdown that will captivate fans in Istanbul and far beyond.
Red-hot ASVEL travels to leaders Barca
Along with the two Turkish giants, the other on-form team of the competition is LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne (11-14). The French team has won five consecutive games on the back of impressively balanced basketball at both ends of the court, also showing great mental strength to hold off a late fightback from FC Bayern Munich last week. ASVEL's task in making it six wins out of six could not be tougher: a trip to league-leading FC Barcelona (18-7). If ASVEL is to continue surprising people, keep an eye on the three-point line, where these two teams are both very efficient, whether taking long shots or defending them. ASVEL ranks fourth (40.2%) and Barca fifth (40.1%) in three-point accuracy and averages 1 more shot made from the arc per game. But it's on defense where both stand out. Barcelona holds opponents to a league-low 33.5% accuracy when shooting threes. ASVEL doesn't even let other teams shoot them much, with league lows of 18.5 attempts and 6.6 makes allowed per game, both figures lower than any defense has allowed since the 2014-15 season. With two hot teams focused on preventing triples, the team that figures out how to break through on the arc will have what could be a decisive advantage.
Olympiacos and CSKA looking to bounce back
Meetings between Olympiacos Piraeus (11-14) and CSKA Moscow (16-8) have provided some of the most memorable moments in recent EuroLeague history, and Thursday's showdown on the shores of the Mediterranean is another key battle as both teams look to emerge from slumps in form. Olympiacos has seen its playoffs hopes fade fast with five consecutive losses, including a 23-point mauling at Efes last week when its 53 points was the fourth-lowest total in club history. CSKA has also struggled with four defeats in its last five games, but heads back into action with renewed energy after three weeks without a EuroLeague game. The injury-hit Russian giant has also bolstered its resources with the signing of experienced big man Michael Eric and scoring star Iffe Lundberg, who will be hoping to make his EuroLeague debut in Piraeus this week. Despite its recent problems, CSKA is still third in the standings and well placed to challenge for a top-four finish. Still, CSKA can ill-afford another setback against an Olympiacos team whose lingering hopes of playoffs qualification would come close to disappearing with another loss this week.