With their do-or-die match-up taking place on Thursday night (8/3, 21:00 CET), Real Madrid and Panathinaikos Superfoods should drastically enhance their overall performance in order to retain their chances to claim the home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Both teams have won only once in their last four games and, consequently, their effort to finish within the top four has become quite difficult.
The “Whites” and the “Greens” are currently tied with Khimki (14-10 record), with the Madrid squad being fifth, the Russians sixth and the Greeks giants seventh, respectively.
With Olympiacos and Fenerbahce being very close to secure the second and third place, respectively (they both have the same record, 17-7), Real and Panathinaikos will do their best to overcome Zalgiris Kaunas, which is currently fourth in the standings (15-9).
That said, what should we expect to see next week at the “Wizink Center” in one of Euroleague’s biggest derbies?
Coach Pablo Laso and his players now are a game away from ending a very difficult schedule, during which they have faced the likes of CSKA Moscow (away), Olympiacos (home), arch rivals Barcelona (away) and defending champions Fenerbahce (home).
The Spaniards failed to capitalise over the other three favourites to reach the Final Four (CSKA Moscow, Olympiacos and Fenerbahce), while they decimated the Catalans at the “Palau Blaugrana” (74-101).
Yet, although their matches against the Russians, the “Reds” and the Turks were decided in the last minute, these three defeats have been a step-back in their mission to achieve their initial target, which is to earn the home-court advantage in the playoffs.
The “Whites” still have to deal with injuries that negatively affect the team’s chemistry.
Although center Gustavo Ayon returned to action following a three-month absence, power forward Trey Thompkins has been sidelined in the past couple of games and he may not be available for the battle against the six-time Euroleague champions.
Moreover, forward Jonas Maciulis was let go, even though he could offer decent solutions on both ends of the floor, while power forward Anthony Randolph hasn’t been in the ideal playing condition yet, after missing many games, due to injury.
As a result, only captain Felipe Reyes plays consistently, alongside Luka Doncic, who is the squad’s leader and reference point in the tactics.
Jaycee Carroll, Rudy Fernandez, Facundo Campazzo and Jeffery Taylor should enhance their overall performance and play at higher standards.
That said, the team’s biggest issue is the lack of chemistry, as coach Laso should redistribute the roles and help his players play much better defensively, with the side conceding 83.25 points in their last four games (93, 80, 74, 86).
On the other hand, Panathinaikos’ schedule is quite difficult and the Greek giants should claim victories on the road if they want to secure their place in the playoffs and keep fighting for the home-court advantage.
The “Greens” added two players to the rotation, namely guard Mike James and center Adreian Payne, yet their acquisition has created a confusing situation and coach Xavi Pascual should now find a way to help all his players be effective and productive, both defensively and offensively.
For instance, the arrival of Mike James has reduced K.C Rivers’ and Nikos Pappas’ playing time, while Matt Lojeski’s return to action means coach Pascual has another player that should be given much playing time in order to be in shape.
Concurrently, with Nick Calathes being the undisputed leader, it seems there is no plan B when the Greek guard doesn’t share the ball quickly.
More specifically, Panathinaikos’ roster consists of players that are very talented offensively, especially in transition and in 1-on-1 situations.
Yet, every time there is no quick ball movement and the players miss many shots, either from mid-range or from beyond the arc, their playing style becomes very predictable, which has been obvious in their last four games.
Against Bamberg, Khimki and Olympiacos, the squad played mediocre offensively, a situation that affected their defensive performance as well. Consequently, they failed to beat their opponents, as they couldn’t come back from double-digit deficits.
Even against Olympiacos on Friday night, when they made a come-back from a 12-point deficit (40-52, 50-62) and led the game to overtime, they made some wrong decisions in the extra time and let the “Reds” escape with a much-needed victory (85-87).
That said, coach Pascual needs to make some changes to his tactics and help the team return to the winning track, as the Greeks have a difficult schedule until the end of the regular season, with three crucial matches on the road against Real Madrid, Unicaja Malaga and Maccabi Tel-Aviv, respectively.
The aforementioned games will determine the squad’s place in the standings and given the team’s mediocre performances on the road, things have become difficult for the Catalan coach and his players.
Overall, Thursday’s match-up between Real Madrid and Panathinaikos is of utmost importance for both teams, so whoever loses this game, they will be in a vulnerable position in the standings.
Both clubs should improve certain aspects of their game and play at higher standards if they want to avoid any major upsets in the following matches, as the Euroleague season has reached its turning point.