This week: Big stories in double-round week

Nov 16, 2020 by Print
This week: Big stories in double-round week

The latest double round week of the season will deliver another batch of big stories as teams jostle for position in the hope of establishing a position in the all-important top eight. Here’s your quick guide to this week’s 18 scheduled games.

Can rampant Barca be stopped?

FC Barcelona (7-1) has established sole ownership of first place with a run of five straight victories, and Sarunas Jasikevicius’s men are arguably in the best form of any team in the history of the competition after winning their last two games by a startling combined margin of 78 points.

After overcoming ALBA Berlin by 36 points and then beating Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul by 42, the league leader now heads into consecutive home games against Olympiacos Piraeus (5-3) on Wednesday and Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade (3-5) on Friday.

The first of those, against Olympiacos, should not be easy. The Greek giant has climbed into a share of third place with two straight wins, and the experience provided by the likes of Vassilis Spanoulis, Kostas Sloukas and former Barcelona player Kostas Papanikolaou means Olympiacos will not be frightened by the prospect of taking on the top team.

Highlight reel dunks by Shaquielle McKissic have become a strong feature of the new season, and with Brandon Davies always guaranteed to produce a few sparks at the other end Wednesday’s showdown could be a spectacular game to enjoy.

Bayern’s biggest test yet

One of the highlights of the week comes very quickly, with Anadolu Efes Istanbul (4-3) welcoming FC Bayern Munich (6-2) for a high-powered showdown on Tuesday evening.

Efes has shrugged off a series of injury problems to string together three straight wins. Vasilije Micic took the starring role by scoring 33 points to down Panathinaikos last week despite the absence of Shane Larkin and Bryant Dunston plus the early loss of Rodrigue Beaubois, showing the depth of talent available to Efes coach Ergin Ataman as well as his team’s tough mentality.

Under the leadership of charismatic new coach Andrea Trinchieri, Bayern has been this season’s surprise package to climb into second place outright. But the German team faces by far its biggest challenge so far this week, with the trip to Efes followed by an equally daunting home meeting with CSKA Moscow (5-3), which has shown clear signs of mounting another serious title challenge by winning three games in a row.

If Bayern comes through this week still in second place, its credentials will have been well and truly proven.

EuroLeague classic in Madrid

Two traditional heavyweights looking to keep on moving up the standings meet in Madrid on Wednesday evening as Real (4-4) hosts Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv (3-5).

It has been a disappointing start to the season for both teams, but they are heading into the double round with confidence lifted by improved recent form. Real have battled hard to claim three consecutive victories, most recently triumphing in Belgrade over Crvena Zvezda last week, while Maccabi started to show its true potential with a thumping home win over Zalgiris Kaunas on Friday.

Wednesday’s game will be a repeat of the 2014 Championship Game and several more big games spanning several decades, but in recent years the rivalry has been totally dominated by Real. The Spanish side has won the last five meetings between the teams, and has not been beaten by Maccabi on its home floor since March 2010, winning nine straight since then.

To change that stat, Maccabi will hope for another big night from Scottie Wilbekin, who ranks third in the league in scoring with an average of 16.6 points per game.

Familiar faces in Russian derby

The week tips off with a Russian derby as Zenit St Petersburg (3-1) welcomes Khimki Moscow Region (1-6), and it will be difficult for respective coaches Xavi Pascual and Rimas Kurtinaitis to find any surprises in a game between two sets of players who know each other extremely well.

No less than six Zenit players formerly played for the visiting team: KC Rivers, Andrey Zubkov, Dmitry Khvostov, Vitaly Fridzon, Igor Volkhin and Anton Pushkov all represented Khimki in the past. Similarly, Khimki also features three former Zenit players: Janis Timma, Sergey Karasev and Evgeny Voronov.

The game is important for both teams, with Zenit looking to maintain its positive start to the campaign while Khimki attempts to climb off the foot of the standings after a tough start. Zenit boasts the best defense in the competition, allowing only 66.8 points per game, so the attempts of Khimki sharpshooters Alexey Shved and Erick McCollom to breach that defense could be decisive to the outcome.

Zalgiris looking for bounce back

In contrast to Real and Maccabi, another team hoping to reverse its recent form is Zalgiris Kaunas (5-3), which has lost two games in a row to see its early-season momentum slip away. The first challenge is a severe one: a home meeting against traditional rivals CSKA Moscow (5-3) on Tuesday.

Things don’t get much easier after that, with a tough trip on Friday to take on AX Armani Exchange Milan (3-2), which is returning from an enforced Covid-19 related absence with bitter memories of losing a close game at Valencia in its last outing.

Ettore Messina’s men will be well rested after only playing one EuroLeague game in the last month, and Milan also has the luxury of staying at home for the double round week. Zalgiris’s recent downturn has been caused by defensive problems, allowing 93 points against Real Madrid and then 93 against Maccabi. Those two teams converted 67.2% (45-of-67) two-point shots in those contests, so tightening up inside against CSKA and Milan will be the priority for the Lithuanian team.