Welcome back to the Experts Round Table, where we ask a variety of the most knowledgeable Turkish Airlines EuroLeague followers across the continent their opinions on the topics of the day. This week's panel includes Matjaz Smodis, three-time former EuroLeague champion; Luca Chiabotti, the former basketball expert-in-residence at La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy; Dimitris Karydas, basketball expert and TV commentator at NOVAsports.gr in Greece; Drazen Kanazir, Editor, Eurohoops Germany; and Andy West, EuroLeague.TV commentator and EuroLeague.net contributor. Check out their opinions on three key questions.
1. Which playoffs-hopeful team registered the most important win in Round 23?
"I think Milan as Mike James really took this team to a different level. They now have four straight wins. Now they are my favorite to secure the sixth spot in the playoffs."
"The Anadolu Efes victory against Olympiacos eliminated the Reds from the fourth-place race, consolidating the position of Coach Ataman's team that now will have only Barcelona as its direct opponent for the last spot for home court in the playoffs. The Armani Milan victory against Maccabi is equally important to keep alive its chances to get the playoffs despite a terrible schedule in the last games."
"Usually, victories that make the difference come in road games. In the 23rd round, there were no significant victories for the teams that played away from home. I will, therefore, choose Armani Milan's victory over Maccabi, mainly because the Italian champion managed to cover the difference of their defeat in Tel Aviv. This gave an extra boost to Armani's attempt to qualify for this year's playoffs."
"There have been some nice wins, but the most important one was for Anadolu Efes Istanbul. The Blues from Turkey not only got the victory over Olympiacos, but bounced back from the loss in Round 12 and took the tiebreaker in this series. To hold the squad of Coach David Blatt to only 65 points was the exclamation point. Anadolu Efes still ranks fourth in the standings and is one game ahead of FC Barcelona Lassa. They will meet in Round 25 at Sinan Erdem Dome."
"With three of its next four games coming on the road, it was vital for Milan to beat Maccabi last week. Even more so as it also meant the Italian champ now two games ahead of Maccabi in the standings and has the head-to-head tie-breaker. Another major bonus was seeing Kaleb Tarczewski make such a strong return from injury; he will be vital in the next few weeks considering the absence of Arturas Gudaitis."
2. Who will win this week's derby between Barcelona and Madrid?
"It's going to be one hell of a game since we all know what happened... at the end of their last game. I think that Real Madrid is fueled with revenge and they will successfully take down the Catalonian giant."
"The clásico is never a game like any other, but especially the next derby, after the controversial final of the Copa del Rey in Madrid, has many emotional components and you cannot make a prediction. For many reasons, Barcelona is strongly favored, so I choose Real Madrid. Madrid cannot fail to react with a great game in Barcelona: if it loses, it would be the third defeat against Barcelona this season (with only one victory), and I think that the desire for revenge will be the decisive push for Madrid."
"The prediction for the winner of El Clásico is never an easy task. Barcelona needs the victory more in its quest to finish fourth and this gives to their side reasonably higher motivation. But I will choose Real Madrid as the winner because they want to avenge the defeat in the Copa del Rey final. In any case, it is a game that will be decided by small details."
"Real Madrid recently booked its ticket for the post-season and is on track for a possible EuroLeague repeat. The champions will be highly motivated against Barcelona because of the disappointing outcome in the Copa del Rey final. Los Blancos won their last two games in the competition and of them against a possible playoff team, FC Bayern Munich. The last matchup between the rivals took place in Round 12 when Madrid won impressively 92-65. This time it is going to be closer, but the result will be in favor of Coach Pablo Laso and company."
"Barcelona. The home side needs it much more than Madrid, which has already qualified for the playoffs and can afford to lose this game and still finish in the top four. The home crowd has been fantastic for Barça in recent games, and the atmosphere at the Palau will be ramped up to the maximum by the pre-game homage to Juan Carlos Navarro. So I think that adrenalin will carry Barça through."
3. Which player will be the difference-maker in El Clásico?
"I think the x-factor for Real Madrid will be Walter Tavares. His presence on the court is most definitely felt, especially on the defensive side. If he has an efficient offensive game, Real should have no trouble."
"Against Barcelona's big bodies, I can't imagine a Real Madrid victory without a great performance from its big man Anthony Randolph as well as Gustavo Ayon and Walter Tavares. Probably one will not be enough: Real will have to dominate under the basket to win. But Coach Laso will have to find a solution to stop Thomas Heurtel, who, in many games this year has been the most dangerous player for Barcelona."
"Anthony Randolph is in a period of excellent form, scoring an average of 18 points in the last month in the EuroLeague. I think he will be the player who will make the difference and be the catalyst in a possible victory for Real in El Classico."
"It will be Anthony Randolph, who has shown all season long why he is ready for such a challenge. The big man is the best scorer for Real Madrid with an average of 13.3 points and their third-best rebounder with 4.7 rebounds per game. Randolph came up strong in the first clasico this season in the EuroLeague and finished it with 16 points. He can provide scoring, rebounding and is a defensive presence. There is no doubt about that No. 3 will provide that little extra and will play on the winning side."
"Kevin Seraphin has been outstanding for Barcelona in recent weeks, especially during the first half of last week's win against Baskonia. He is developing a great connection with fellow Frenchman Thomas Heurtel and Madrid will have to find an answer. The problem for Pablo Laso is that Barcelona is so strong and physical, it's very easy for opposing bigs to find themselves in foul trouble."