After FC Barcelona (21-8) became the first qualifier to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs last week, Anadolu Efes Istanbul (19-10) and AX Armani Exchange Milan (19-10) may both enjoy the same possibility of advancing during Round 30. Or they may not.
Efes would qualify with a victory when it visits FC Bayern on Friday only if three other teams – TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (15-14), Zalgiris Kaunas (15-14) and Valencia Basket (15-14) – will have lost their games before Efes tips off.
Milan needs Baskonia to lose, as well, in combination with either Valencia, Bayern, or both Real Madrid (17-12) and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (17-12). If one of those combinations is in place, Milan must then beat league-leading Barcelona at home in Friday's late game to reach the playoffs for just the second time this century and first since 2014.
What's remarkable about both Efes and Milan is that neither looked like early qualifier candidates at the end of 2020. Since the turn of the new year, however, they have rocketed up the charts.
Efes was in 11th place with an 8-9 record on December 31, but has since won 11 of 12 games, including the last eight in a row. But that doesn't quite say enough about how Efes has been peaking.
Its last six wins were each by 22 points or more for an average victory margin of 25.3 points. Among them were blowouts of perennial Final Four teams Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (74-106) and CSKA Moscow (100-70). Remember, though, that Efes faces four road games against playoffs contenders in its last five games.
Milan's 2021 surge has been just as transforming if a little more subtle. Milan was sitting in eighth place with a 9-7 record on January 1, but has since won 10 of its last 13 games, including road games at CSKA and Real, the teams that sat in first and second place, respectively, when 2020 ended.
In the first 16 games it played this season, until the end of last year, Milan scored an average of 81.7 points and gave up an average of 80.5 to its opponents.
In the last 13 games, all in 2021, Milan is scoring almost exactly the same amount, 81.6 points, but has cut the points it allows to 74.7.
That difference of almost 5.8 points per game is the most marked defensive improvement among all EuroLeague teams in 2021 as compared to the season through the end of 2020. Incidentally, Efes ranks second in defensive improvement during that span, holding opponents to 5.3 fewer points than it did before the new year.
Round 30 qualification possibilities
Efes qualifies with a win at Bayern IF Baskonia, Valencia and Zalgiris all lose.
Milan qualifies with a win against Barcelona IF Baskonia and Valencia both lose.
Milan qualifies with a win against Barcelona IF Baskonia and Bayern both lose.
Milan qualifies with a win against Barcelona IF Baskonia, Real and Fenerbahce all lose.