An injury plagued Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv host third placed Olympiacos on Thursday knowing that with seven games left in the EuroLeague regular season, they need to start winning if they have any chance at reaching the Playoffs.
Despite a torrid season, the Israeli side are four wins outside of the Playoff places, so a space in the Playoffs looks highly unlikely but Maccabi will look to their victory over Olympiacos in round nine for inspiration. They claimed an 80-73 win over the Reds in Piraeus albeit with a stronger squad.
For Olympiacos, it is all about tightening their grip on third as they look to chase second place CSKA Moscow and league leaders Real Madrid.
“Εvery game until the end of the season it is crucial,” said Khem Birch. “The same happens with the one against Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv. We must be ready.”
∞∞∞ FENERBAHCE LOOKING TO POUNCE ON ANY OLYMPIACOS SLIP ∞∞∞
Directly below Olympiacos lie Fenerbahce, who travel to Kaunas on Thursday to face Zalgiris knowing that they need to win to maintain their outside top seed push.
“They have not so known players but they play amazing, they play tough and physical, as we saw in Istanbul,” said Fenerbahce forward Nikola Kalinic. “This is the main point of the game, we have to match their intensity. If we do that we will be good.”
However, they face a rejuvenated Zalgiris side who are in the post-season mix having won four of their last five matches and will prove a tough competition for Fenerbahce.
“With every game in the EuroLeague the importance grows,” said Zalgiris coach Sarunas Jasikevicius. “All the teams realise that despite their place in the standings. It gets harder and harder, but we are optimistic.
“We know that every game is a new story, a new preparation and we are working on that this week when the EuroLeague runner-up is coming to Kaunas. Last week they once again showed what they are capable of when they trailed Olympiacos in the start of fourth quarter, but then dominated the game. We have to be very focused on Thursday.”
∞∞∞ LEADERS TRAVEL TO ISTANBUL, HOPING TO BE THERE IN MAY ∞∞∞
Real Madrid hopes to be the first team under the new EuroLeague format to officially qualify for the Playoffs – but they need to get past strugglers Galatasaray in Istanbul – a city where the Liga Endesa side wishes to be when the Final Four rolls around, first.
On the flip side, Galatasaray needs to win to avoid early elimination. Both teams share a history of five games in EuroLeague action with Madrid leading thanks to a perfect 5-0. The last win arrived in Round 5, as the Spanish team won at home by 90-81 thanks to 23 points by Sergio Llull, who has been the true cornerstone of the Spanish team’s attack, averaging 17.1 points a game.
“Although we are at the bottom of the standings and lost our chances for the playoffs, we won seven hard games and lost some games in the final moments,” Galatasaray coach Ergin Ataman commented. “One of them was the road game against Real Madrid. We completed all our preparations. We will play to win with the support of our fans.”
∞∞∞ TWO MORE GAMES WRAP UP THURSDAY NIGHT ∞∞∞
A five-game Thursday in the EuroLeague sees Crvena Zvezda host Brose Bamberg with both sides playing a thrilling encounter earlier in the season in round nine that saw Red Star emerge with a narrow 79-78 win thanks to Charles Jenkins.
“It’s one of the toughest courts in Europe,” admits Bamberg’s Nikos Zisis.
“Their defence and the whole way they play put you in very difficult situations. We know, that if we want to be competitive there, we have to play a very solid game over the whole 40 minutes.”
And Thursday’s action is completed when Baskonia look to get back to winning ways against basement side EA7 Milano, who have lost Zoran Dragic for the season due to a knee injury.