A rematch from last season’s championship game is the main attraction as a two-round week of action sees games from Rounds 20 and 21 take place across the continent between Tuesday and Friday.
Olympiacos looks for fourth straight win
After an unscheduled break in play due to COVID-19 infections around the continent, the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague returns to action with a very appetizing game in Tuesday’s early tip-off as Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (7-10) faces Olympiacos Piraeus (12-5). The hosts are hoping to force their way into the playoff picture over the coming weeks, while the third-placed visitor has its sights firmly set on finishing in the all-important top four.
Georgios Bartzokas’s team will be feeling good about itself ahead of the relatively short flight to Istanbul, having won six of its last seven games including a road win at archrival Panathinaikos OPAP Athens last time out. And the Reds also gained confidence by finally snapping a five-game losing streak against Fenerbahce when the teams met in Round 7 – a closely-fought affair that eventually saw Olympiacos prevail 67-65. But Fenerbahce’s home form was good before the brief break, winning three straight in Istanbul to enter the second half of the regular season with growing confidence.
Final Four reunions for Barcelona
League leading FC Barcelona (15-3) this week faces not one but two reunions from last season’s Final Four in Cologne with Tuesday’s visit of AX Armani Exchange Milan (10-6) followed by Thursday’s mouth-watering showdown with reigning champion Anadolu Efes Istanbul (9-9). Barca and Milan delivered a memorable game in last season’s semifinal, which was eventually decided by a Cory Higgins game-winner with just 2 seconds remaining. And Higgins is again available for Sarunas Jasikevicius’s men, having recovered from injury to bolster his team’s backcourt against a Milan team that has not played in the competition for nearly a month due to COVID-related postponements.
Two days later, eighth-placed Efes will also head to Palau Blaugrana for a rematch of last season’s championship game. Barca already gained some revenge for May’s loss in Cologne by triumphing at Efes in an overtime thriller, 93-95, in Round 13. Coach Jasikevicius’s team totally dominated the rebounding battle on that occasion, gaining 47 rebounds to just 29, so Efes will look to be much more competitive on the boards this time around.
Bayern seeking revenge over Monaco
Like Fenerbahce, another team currently poised below the playoffs positions but with ambitions to climb higher is FC Bayern Munich (7-10), which this week faces home games against lower placed opposition with visits from Zalgiris Kaunas (3-13) on Tuesday and AS Monaco (7-11) on Thursday.
Monaco ended a bad run of results by overcoming Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv in its last outing, using 13 assists from Mike James and excellent all-round shooting percentages to gain a first home win for recently appointed coach Sasa Obradovic. Bayern, on the other hand, is preparing for its return to action after losing three straight and also has bitter memories of its last meeting with Bayern after getting thrashed 94-71 in the principality in November. Monaco shot 69.4% from two-point range in that big win, so Coach Andrea Trinchieri will expect his team to show far greater defensive toughness in Friday’s meeting at the Audi Dome, where Bayern has won four of its last five games.
Playmaker Jovic poised for PAO debut
One of the biggest mid-season roster moves has been the recruitment of Stefan Jovic by Panathinaikos OPAP Athens (4-13) and the playmaker is set for a testing debut with Wednesday’s home game against perennial powerhouse CSKA Moscow (10-7). Jovic has been firmly established for many years as one of the continent’s top pass-first point guards, never more so than when he set the competition’s all-time record for assists in a single game by dishing 19 for Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade against his future club FC Bayern Munich way back in November 2015. And those distribution skills will be valuable for Panathinaikos, which has averaged just 14.2 assists per game so far this season – third-worst in the competition.
CSKA heads into the second half of the campaign with a lingering hangover from its final game of 2021, which saw the Russian giant suffer a shock loss at Real Madrid despite the home side only having five senior players available. Coach Dimitris Itoudis’s men have been waiting longer than they wanted to bounce back from that loss and will be eager to start 2022 in better fashion by gaining a fifth straight win over Panathinaikos.
Yabusele set for big battle with Enoch
The week is scheduled to conclude on Friday night with an all-Spanish League affair as second-placed Real Madrid (14-3) welcomes Bitci Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (7-11) with the aim of extending its perfect record at home which currently stands at nine straight games. Neither team will play earlier in the week, with their respective scheduled games against Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade and Anadolu Efes Istanbul already postponed, so both sets of players will be eager to get back into action.
One player with a particular reason to perform well is Guerschon Yabusele, whose excellent first half-season with Real has earned him a contract extension to 2025. The French big man has made a name for himself by averaging 12.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals for a PIR of 14.7 so far this season and on Friday night he faces a good battle against another one of the league’s up-and-coming stars, Baskonia center Steven Enoch. The EuroLeague rookie has bagged four double-doubles in the last 10 games, including 13 points and 10 rebounds in Baskonia’s outstanding victory against Barcelona at the end of December. And having claimed one big Spanish scalp with that win, Friday’s visitors to the WiZink Center will need another big performance from Enoch to overcome Real this week.