ALBA Berlin are aware that they are teetering on elimination from the Euroleague if they do not beat Unicaja Malaga in the German capital on Thursday night.
The Bundesliga side are currently 2-4 in Group B and desperate to extend their season in the competition. The last time that the two sides met, it was Unicaja that triumphed thanks to a game-winning three from Kostas Vasileiadis, who has hit a three-pointer in his last 18 Euroleague games.
ALBA coach Sasha Obradovic remembers the game well and is using the previous encounter as a tool for the return at the O2 World.
“Although we lost the first game, we did a great job in Malaga,” Obradovic said. “So the model is there and if we go into this game with the same attitude, we should have our chance.
“Winning this game would put us into the pole position for the last Top 16 ticket in our group. But we will have to focus on the details, because Unicaja is a team which punishes every mistake instantly.”
For Malaga, a win would put them a game closer to certain qualification to the Top 16. Already owning a 4-2 record, Malaga have enjoyed this season’s regular season, as well as their domestic campaign, where they have only dropped one game in eight.
“Unicaja Malaga’s whole team from one to five is very solid,” Berlin’s Jamel McLean said. “Nevertheless in the first game we were able to compete with them until the last shot. But we did not lose that game only by this last shot.
“We also gave them too many offensive rebounds and these second chances really hurts the defence. On Thursday we definitely will have to take more care of the rebounds”
Another match-up in Group B sees Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv host CSKA Moscow in a game where the reigning Euroleague champions look to gain a measure of revenge for their 19-point hammering in the Russian capital last time the two sides met.
CSKA Moscow [6-0] are already through to the Top 16, whereas Maccabi [4-2] are a win away from virtually guaranteeing a spot. They will be extra motivated knowing that they will have a sold-out Nokia Arena behind them. CSKA’s Sonny Weems is aware of the danger on the court.
“As usually our only intention is to go there and win,” Weems explained. “Though we understand it won’t be that easy. They are extra motivated after the big loss in Moscow, they need to fight in every game to insure their position in the Top 16 and they are playing at home. Still I think we are in good shape, on a roll, and we are ready to continue playing well.”
Another of the big games taking place on Thursday will be in Group D as Red Star Belgrade host Neptunas at the Kombank Arena, where nearly 21,000 Red Star fans are expected.
Both sides are currently locked on 3-3 records so the stakes are high. Red Star will start as slight favourites, as Neptunas’ three defeats have all come away from Klaipeda.
“Neptunas has proven with their games this season that they are rightfully a part of the Euroleague society,” admitted Red Star coach Dejan Radonjic. “Although they were considered as outsiders before the start, they showed they have great quality by winning games.
“They are representatives of the famous Lithuanian school of basketball, which is characterized by great scorers. That is the reason why we must play very aggressive defence. We hope that our arena will once again be jam-packed and that our fans will continue to show us great support.”
Neptunas coach Kazys Maksvytis knows that now is the time for his side to step up in the important stage of the regular season. For his side to defy the odds and advance to the Top 16 at the first attempt, it starts with strong defence.
“I want everything to start from our defence,” he said. “The game against [Red Star] is a very important game for us. A win would put both teams on a good position for the Top 16. Of course the atmosphere in Belgrade arena always is great.”
In Group A, Real Madrid need to win to ensure qualification and to keep them on track for a home Final Four – something that hasn’t been achieved since 2007 – when Panathinaikos triumphed in Athens.
Unics Kazan [2-4] will provide the opposition, as they perhaps surprisingly travel to the Spanish capital for the first time since the 2007 ULEB Cup semi-finals.
“It will be a big game in Madrid,” said Unics’ James White. “Our opponents are strong, and they play at home. It will be very important for us to play well there and [get] a good result in this match-up, and we will definitely play to win.”
“It will be important to start focused and try to impose our pace to take a win that would put us in the Top 16,” Real Madrid coach Pablo Laso said. “We must try defensive variants.
“Unics looks for the switches to use the one on one, and that is an effort that all my players must make. Unics feels comfortable against a ‘normal’ defense, they know how to read it because they have quality and it’s important for us to change that rhythm.”
Real Madrid vs Unics Kazan
Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv vs CSKA Moscow
ALBA Berlin vs Unicaja Malaga
Fenerbahce vs PGE Turow
Red Star vs Neptunas
Laboral Kutxa vs Olympiacos
Nizhny Novgorod vs Zalgiris
Anadolu Efes vs Dinamo Sassari
Cedevita Zagreb vs Limoges
Panathinaikos vs Bayern Munich
Barcelona vs EA7 Milano
Valencia vs Galatasaray