This Week’s Games: Double drama in December – News

December’s double-round week provides 18 quality games all across the continent, with everything to play for as the race for the playoffs heats up. Here’s your snapshot of the week ahead in Rounds 15 and 16.

Will red-hot Vesely keep on reviving Fenerbahce?

After getting its season back on track with back-to-back victories, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (5-9) heads into the two-round week hoping that a pair of home games will provide another opportunity to keep climbing the standings. First, on Tuesday evening, Fenerbahce welcomes a Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv (7-7) team that has lost its early-season promise by suffering four consecutive losses. And on Thursday the visitor is Bitci Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (5-9), which has lost four straight on the road, but showed promising signs of a revival with a thumping home win over LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne last week.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out the key to Fenerbahce’s recent improvement: veteran big man Jan Vesely has been in unstoppable form, registering a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds in a Round 13 victory over AS Monaco before going even better with 32 points in last week’s road win at Zenit St Petersburg – the highest tally of his 268-game EuroLeague career. There are also signs that point guard Pierria Henry is now settling into life with Fenerbahce, dishing 6 assists in both those victories, and he will look to maintain that form for his first meeting with his former club Baskonia on Thursday.

Barca faces Kalinic threat to top spot

FC Barcelona (12-2) roared to the top of the standings with an authoritative home win over Clasico rivals Real Madrid on Friday night and will look to protect its status with road games at Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade (6-8) on Tuesday and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens (4-10) on Thursday. The trip to Belgrade is a fascinating one against a Zvezda team that has beaten two playoff-positioned teams in its most recent games, overcoming Zenit St Petersburg and Olympiacos Piraeus to move within one win of the top eight.

A central character in the action will be Nikola Kalinic, who has been instrumental to Zvezda’s successes this season with an average PIR of 18.7 in the Serbian team’s six wins, compared to his overall average PIR of 11.6. Put simply: if Kalinic plays well, Zvezda’s chances of winning increase exponentially. The former Fenerbahce forward has registered a PIR in double digits on six occasions this season, and five of those games have resulted in a win. If you stop Kalinic, you largely stop Zvezda, so the task for Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius and his players on Tuesday is clear.

Is Milan moving on up?

AX Armani Exchange Milan (9-5) arrested a worrying slump in form by winning at AS Monaco on Friday, stopping a four-game losing streak ahead of a two-round week that culminates in Thursday’s visit from second-placed Real Madrid (11-3). It is a matchup that has been traditionally dominated by the Spanish giant, which won 14 consecutive games against Milan over 11 years. However, that run was finally broken last season, when the Italian team gained a 78-70 home win and then also won in Madrid 76-80.

As you might expect, both those wins for Milan featured strong performances from former Real star Sergio Rodriguez, who registered a career-high PIR of 37 in the home victory before leading his team’s scorers with 17 points in the road triumph. The former EuroLeague MVP was also instrumental in last week’s low-scoring win at Monaco, topping his team’s scoring with 13 points, so the ability of ‘El Chacho’ to orchestrate Milan’s offense will be vital in his latest Real reunion this week.

Can UNICS topple CSKA in the Russian derby?

This season’s surprise package UNICS Kazan (8-6) starts this week’s action with the major test of a ‘derby’ trip – although they are separated by 800 kilometers – to face fellow Russian squad CSKA Moscow (9-5) in Wednesday’s opening tip-off. UNICS leads the league in steals with 9.5 per game and will look to use its active defense to unsettle CSKA’s ball movement. Another stat reflecting UNICS’s great hustle and energy is that Coach Velimir Perasovic’s team has allowed its opponents to convert just 30.3% of three-point shots, again the best out of all teams.

Those stats make it clear that finding room to breathe against the UNICS defense is far from straightforward and that will present a particular challenge to CSKA’s backcourt star Alexey Shved, who has settled into his best form of the season and delivered 13 assists in the Round 13 victory over Panathinaikos. UNICS will make it a priority to break up Shved’s passing rhythm and clamp down on his three-point shooting. Gaining its fourth straight road win would certainly send a message that this is a team to be taken very seriously.

Bayern seeks road improvement at perfect Olympiacos

After seeing a run of three straight wins come to an end with last week’s loss at Zvezda, third-place Olympiacos Piraeus (9-5) will aim to get back on track with home games against dangerous FC Bayern Munich (7-7) and faltering LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne (7-7). Wednesday’s meeting with Bayern promises to be a tight affair, with the German visitors looking to maintain their strong recovery from a 0-4 start to move to the brink of the playoffs places. However, most of Bayern’s successes have come at home and a run of four away games out of the next five provides an opportunity for Coach Andrea Trinchieri’s men to pick up their form on the road.

It won’t be easy against Olympiacos, which has won all seven games at home so far, where it has held its opponents to just 67.4 points per game, allowing fewer than 70 points in five of those games. Escaping the Peace and Friendship Stadium with a road win will require a big Bayern performance from former Olympiacos big man Augustine Rubit, who has hit perhaps the best form of his EuroLeague career with a PIR of at least 16 in each of the last four games.

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