Round 9 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague will see five teams currently tied for second place attempt to maintain their high position, while the sole leader faces a tough test on the road. Here’s your guide to the action.
ASVEL’s dynamic duo take on the best defense
LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne has provided two consecutive MVP of the Round winners with Elie Okobo taking the award in Round 7 and Chris Jones doing the same last week. It’s the first time that two different players from the same team have repeated as the award winners since Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic did so for Anadolu Efes Istanbul in Rounds 25 and 26 last season and it strongly suggests that Okobo and Jones are becoming one of the most effective backcourt pairings in the competition.
The task of stopping the dynamic duo and their high-flying ASVEL (6-2) teammates this week falls to Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade (2-6), which is also feeling good about life after a dominant victory over Panathinaikos OPAP Athens last week, ending a five-game losing streak in stunning fashion. Zvezda did a great job of clamping down the Panathinaikos offense last week and boasts the best defense in the competition with just 67.3 points allowed per game. All that resilience will have to be on display in Belgrade to slow down the red-hot Jones and Okobo.
Can Maccabi prolong CSKA’s pain?
If you had predicted a few weeks ago that CSKA Moscow’s meeting with Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv would feature one team tied for second place and another in ninth position, you would almost certainly have guessed CSKA to be the high-fliers and Maccabi to be the mid-standings dwellers. In fact, though, it’s precisely the opposite because CSKA (4-4) has slumped to three consecutive losses while Maccabi (6-2) has picked up five straight wins. The last time the Russian giant suffered such a poor run of results was way back in January 2017, when Coach Dimitris Itoudis’s side snapped a three-game losing streak by piling on 101 points against AX Armani Exchange Milan, so Maccabi will be wary of being on the receiving end of a similar reaction this time around.
Recent results have suggested that Maccabi is made of strong stuff, and there would be no better way of proving its title credentials than overcoming the mighty CSKA in Moscow, something the Israeli champion has only succeeded in doing twice this century. Expect a ferocious battle on Thursday’s opening tip-off.
Spanish rivals looking to bounce back
After a run of three consecutive heavy losses, Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (3-5) will be looking for a reaction when it travels for an all-Spanish League affair at FC Barcelona (6-2) on Thursday. The home side will also be seeking a response following consecutive road losses at Maccabi and Milan, with the latter performance drawing sharp criticism from Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius. The Lithuanian chief was particularly upset with his starting five after Barca conceded 28 points in the first quarter, so superstars like Nikola Mirotic, Nick Calathes and Brandon Davies will be eager to prove a point by making a more dominant entry against Baskonia.
Baskonia has particularly struggled for offensive production during its losing run, averaging just 64 points in the last three games. Rediscovering its scoring ability against one of the best defenses in the competition will be no easy task, and the task to restore fluidity will fall upon backcourt leaders Jayson Granger and Wade Baldwin IV after Baskonia averaged just 13.7 assists with 12.7 turnovers in the last three.
Classic quintet collides in Istanbul
Last week’s impressively-earned victory over Barcelona saw AX Armani Exchange Milan (7-1) take sole possession of first place and Ettore Messina’s men will attempt to hold onto that status with a mouth-watering trip to Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (3-5) on Friday. It’s a far from an ideal time to visit the Turkish team after Fenerbahce restored confidence with last week’s commanding victory over CSKA Moscow. The hosts will doubtless look to base their challenge on defense, with their intensity off the ball illustrated by an average of 8.1 steals per game – second-best in the league.
The game will allow us to see classic confrontations from players who have been among the EuroLeague’s greatest stars over the last decade, as Nando De Colo faces his former teammate Sergio Rodriguez in the backcourt while Jan Vesely goes up against Kyle Hines in the paint. It also marks a return to Istanbul for Milan sharpshooter Luigi Datome, who spent five seasons with Fenerbahce and helped it win the 2017 title alongside Vesely. That quintet of walking highlight reels will surely provide some more magic moments on Friday, but will they be decisive? It will be fun to find out.
Can Olympiacos start rolling on the road?
Zenit St Petersburg (5-3) hosts Olympiacos Piraeus (6-2) in Friday’s early tip-off with both teams looking to prove their playoff credentials after strong starts to the season. Olympiacos has climbed into a tie for second place with an outstanding home record, winning every game in Piraeus so far this season. But now Georgios Bartzokas’s men have to prove they can also triumph on the road, having lost their only two away games so far. And they will get plenty of practice: this trip to Russia is the start of a sequence of five road games out of six for Olympiacos in the next month.
Zenit, meanwhile, enjoyed an excellent road victory at Anadolu Efes Istanbul last week and can now enjoy home comforts with a run of three straight home games. The win in Istanbul was a real team effort as eight different players scored at least 7 points, perfectly encapsulating the collective approach preached by Coach Xavi Pascual. That kind of approach will certainly be required against a confident Olympiacos.