Less than 48 hours before the beginning of the 2017 Euroleague playoffs, all eight clubs are ready to fight tooth and nail for the qualification to the Final Four, with exciting games being set to take place.
CSKA Moscow vs Baskonia:
Although the Muscovites didn’t claim the first place in the standings (22-8 record), they still are the number one favourites to win the coveted title for the second straight time.
Dimitris Itoudis has created such a talented and deep roster that is very difficult for every opponent to stop the “Bear”, as Milos Teodosic (16.1 ppg and 7.2 apg) and Nando De Colo (20.1 points, 4.1 assists per game, 45.3% from beyond the arc) are the team’s leaders and MVP candidates as well.
Concurrently, the Russian squad is consisted of many versatile players (Aaron Jackson, Antrey Vorontsevich, Kyle Hines and Cory Higgins) that can be tremendous on both ends of the floor and help the team impose its own playing style and dominate their opponents.
Consequently, CSKA has the league’s best offence (87.3 points per game), while the Russians are second in the Index rating (averaging 99.93 per game) and the assists list (20.4 per game), respectively.
On the other hand, and despite the fact that the Muscovites play very good defence and make many steals (7.07, fourth in the respective category), what they need to change, ahead of their clash with the Basques, is their high number of turnovers (14.53 per game) in order to avoid any major upsets.
Regarding Baskonia, the Spanish team made mediocre performances in the last part of the regular season and finished seventh on the table (17-13 record), even though they were capable of earning the home-court advantage.
Although Sito Alonso is a decent coach, who has his own tactics and ideas, the Basques suffered many ups and downs during the season and now need to play at very high standards, if they want to make the surprise and eliminate their opponents.
Even though Shane Larkin (13.1 ppg, 5.1 apg) and Rodrigue Beaubois (11.6 ppg, 36.7% from the three-point range) execute most plays every time they are on the floor, it’s the presence of Adam Hanga (10.6 points per game, along with 4.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists) and Tornike Shengelia (10.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 52.3% from beyond the arc) that helps the squad be competitive on both ends of the floor.
Both players can do everything, both offensively and defensively, and that’s why they have a central role in Alonso’s plays.
Although the roster is not as deep as CSKA’s one, the Basques can be very dangerous if they have the momentum on their side, as they grab many rebounds (36.73, 2nd in the respective category) and have one of the best offensive lines in the league (81.5 ppg).
That said, and if they take advantage of their impressive home court, they can beat their opponents (at least) once, but their mission certainly is extremely difficult.
Prediction: CSKA Moscow win the series 3-1
Panathinaikos Superfoods vs Fenerbahce
What both teams have in common in that match-up is Zeljco Obradovic’s presence. The Serbian coach, who won five Euroleague titles as the “Greens’” head coach, now needs to eliminate his former team and lead Fenerbahce to the Final-Four once again.
However, things will not be so easy for Obradovic, as Panathinaikos have been in great form lately.
Even though it was doubtful whether they would qualify to the playoffs, the Greek squad turned things around and earned the home-court advantage, being tremendous in the last part of the regular season.
Xavi Pascual seems to have imposed his own playing style and the “Greens” play very well on both ends of the floor, having the momentum on their side.
In spite of some ups and down they are still facing, the Greeks have rapidly enhanced their performance and are at their very best in every game.
Despite not being among the top clubs in any of the major categories (points, assists, rebounds, steals), Panathinaikos have found the ideal balance between the back-court line and the front-line that enables them to remain competitive for 40 minutes.
Chris Singleton does everything on the floor (12.3 points per game, six rebounds, 1.3 steals and 46.5% in three-pointers), while Mike James (12.9 points per game, 36.7% from beyond the arc) and K.C Rivers (11 ppg, 41.2% form the three-point range) are tremendous, especially in 1-on-1 situations and from the three-point range.
Nick Calathes (10.1 ppg, 5.2 apg) and Giannis Bourousis (8.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) also are two of the team’s leaders, while Nikos Pappas has been excellent lately.
Concerning Fenerbahce, the Turks have been in free fall in the last 45 days. Playing very badly both defensively and offensively, Obradovic’s players lost the opportunity to claim the home-court advantage, although they initially had the upper hand over their opponents.
As a result, they now need to prevail (at least) once over their opponents on the road in order to win the series and advance to the Final Four.
The return to action of Kostas Sloukas (10.2 points per game, 4.5 assists, 47.4% in three-pointers) and Luigi Datome (9.6 ppg, 46.7% from beyond the arc) makes Obradovic more optimistic, however the Turks still need to make many changes to their tactics, if they want to remain competitive.
Just like Panathinaikos, Fenerbahce have one of the worst defensive lines in the league, averaging just 76.2 ppg, while they are very low in the rebounds (32.6) and assists (17.13), respectively.
Apart from Sloukas and Datome, Bobby Dixon (11.3 ppg), Ekpeh Udoh (11.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Jan Vesely (10.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) also are the squad’s leaders, with Pero Antic and James Nunnally (43.3% from the three-point range) offering extra solutions on both ends of the floor.
That said, and with Obradovic having plenty of players capable of making the difference in every game (Bogdan Bogdanovic is expected to be a game changer in the series), it’s time for the Turks to reverse the situation and prove they deserve to be in the Final-Four.
One way or another, it’s difficult to make a prediction, as all matches will probably be decided in the last minutes, however Obradovic and his players seem able to beat the “Greens” in Athens and turn things around.
Prediction: Fenerbahce win the series 2-3
Olympiacos vs Anadolu Efes
This is a battle between two clubs that have a completely different playing style.
The “Reds” have the home-court advantage and are considered the favourites to advance to the playoffs, however the Turks are in great form, having won eight of their last 10 games.
The club’s head coach, Velimir Perasovic, tries to exploit his players’ athleticism and offensive talent, so most plays focus on scoring fast-break points as well as in transition.
Moreover, Derrick Brown (13 points and 5.8 boards per game) executes many isolation plays, while Thomas Heurtel (13.2 ppg, 5.8 apg) and Jayson Granger (9.6 points, the squad’s best on-ball defender) score points and dish assists (mostly) through pick’ n ’roll situations.
Anadolu Efes is one of the best teams in the offensive rebounds, scoring many second-chance points, while Bryant Dunston (10.7 ppg, 6.4 boards per game) and Tyler Honeycutt (nine points, 2.2 apg, 7.1 rpg) act as reference points on both ends of the floor.
Especially the former Khimki forward does everything, both defensively and offensively, so his performance will be vital for the Turkish team in the series.
The Turks are very ineffective defensively (conceding almost 84 ppg), while they have a low percentage in two-pointers (50.8%) and that’s why they try to score in transition.
If Olympiacos manages to prevent the Turkish team from scoring easy baskets, then things will become easier for the Greeks, as Perasovic seems to have no plan B, if the initial plan doesn’t work.
For their part, the Reds’ tactics revolve around two players, namely Vassilis Spanoulis (11.8 points and six assists per game) and Giorgos Printezis (13 ppg and five rpg), with the captain and co-captain being the leaders both on and off the floor.
Spanoulis is one of the best pick’n’roll players in the league, while Printezis is unstoppable in the low-post.
Concurrently, the presence of Matt Lojeski (42% in three-pointers) and Erick Green (39.8% from beyond the arc) makes the back-court line stronger, while Vaggelis Mantzaris (5.5 ppg) is a consistent three-point shooter.
In the frontline, only Khem Birch (7.3 points and six boards per game) regularly is among the team’s top players, with Nikola Milutinov having improved many aspects of his game and Patrick Young still trying to enhance his performance.
Olympiacos is the best team in total rebounds (averaging 37.07 per game), having the best defence as well (conceding less than 74 points per game).
Against Anadolu Efes, coach Sfairopoulos will try to control the rhythm and play excellent defensively in order to destroy the Turkish squad’s plays.
The “Reds” are tremendous on the road, so it will not be so difficult for them to earn the victory in Istanbul, while I think Game 2 in Piraeus will play a decisive role in the tactics.
Prediction: Olympiacos win the series 3-1
Real Madrid vs Darussafaka
It’s the absolute match-up between the favourite and the underdog. Although Darussafaka’s roster has many talented and versatile players, Real Madrid play much better overall and it will be very difficult for the Turks to eliminate them.
Pablo Laso has seen his players be extraordinary in the past three months, with the squad losing only twice in their last 15 matches and finishing first in the standings (23-7 record).
The roster is so deep that the Spanish coach has many players ready to act as game changers, while Sergio Llull guarantees he will take over when everything is on the line.
The 29-year-old guard has made amazing performances since the beginning of the season (16.1 points and 5.9 assists per game) and will probably claim the MVP award as well.
The Madrid squad has the league’s second best offence (averaging 86.7 points per game), as they also dish many assists (20.6 per game) and have a high field-goal percentage (57% in two-pointers, 37.5% in three-pointers).
The squad is full of versatile players that can offer decent solutions in more than one positions, so the opponents need to have a very effective game plan in order to stop them.
The “Whites” can be dominant both inside the paint and from beyond the arc, while they set off-ball screens to help the guards shoot many three-pointers, as their back-court line is very productive in pick’n’roll situations.
With most players being very good on the other end of the floor as well, Real Madrid plays very tough defence, especially in the last minutes of every game, and can easily dominate their opponents.
On the other hand, Darussafaka’s plays are based on Brad Wanamaker’s (16.2 points, 40.2% from beyond the arc, 4.7 assists, 1.6 steals per game) and Will Clyburn’s (13.2 ppg) versatile playing style, while Scottie Wilbekin (39.2% in three-pointers) is consistent from the three-point range.
For his part, David Blatt is a great coach and it’s likely he will adopt a different playing style in order to turn things around and make Real change its initial plans and lose its concentration.
That said, I think Game 1 will determine the series’ result, even though it seems difficult for Darussafaka to beat the Spaniards more than once in the series.
Prediction: Real Madrid win the series 3-0
Overall, all four series are expected to be ultra competitive and exciting, however no major upsets will probably happen and the favourites will advance to the playoffs.