With the Euroleague reaching its turning point, all eight clubs are ready to fight tooth and nail for the qualification to the Final Four, which will take place in Belgrade next month (May 18-20).
Here is a preview of what we are expecting to see from the top eight teams in the postseason.
CSKA Moscow (1) vs Khimki Region (8)
In the 100th match between the two clubs, CSKA Moscow welcome Khimki at the “MegaSport Arena” on Tuesday night (17/4, 19:00 CET), entering the series as the favourite to advance to the Final Four.
CSKA’s offence will stick the winner
Coach Dimitris Itoudis and his players were unstoppable in the regular season and easily claimed the first place in the standings (24-6 record).
With Nando De Colo, Sergio Rodriguez and Will Clyburn as the leaders, the Muscovites played excellent offensively, averaging 89.5 points per game.
The supporting cast (Cory Higgins, Kyle Hines, Andrey Vorontsevich, among others) was equally productive, as the squad had a great two-point (56.4%, number one in the league) and three-point (42.7%, number one in the league) percentage, respectively.
Their defence was not so effective (conceding 79.6 points per game), yet the presence of coach Itoudis, who is considered a defensive specialist, ensures the Russian side will be very tough defensively in the series.
CSKA Moscow have been unstoppable in their home court this season (they lost only once in the regular season to Fenerbahce, 93-95) and will do their best to impose their playing style on both ends of the floor and dominate their opponents.
Khimki’s defence will be the key in the series
Khimki had many ups and downs and suffered crucial losses that prevented them from climbing higher on the table, as they claimed the last play-off spot (16-14 record).
Alexey Shved has been the leader and Euroleague’s top scorer (21.43 points per game), so his offensive productivity will determine whether the Russians will remain competitive against their rivals.
Although the supporting cast is very talented (Malcolm Thomas, James Anderson, Charles Jenkins, Thomas Robinson) and the squad is productive offensively (averaging 78 points per game), coach Giorgos Bartzokas has seen his team play very badly in the last part of the season, losing five times in their last seven matches.
Khimki need to return to their previous high standards defensively, as they concede 78.4 points per game and hold their opponents to just 50.6 points in two-point shooting during the regular season.
Given they conceded an average of 84.5 points in their two matches against the “Bear” (79 and 90, respectively), Khimki need to be at their very best and prevent CSKA from scoring 80+ points, if they want to have a chance to be victorious in Game 1.
Prediction: CSKA Moscow to win the series 3-1
Fenerbahce (2) vs Baskonia (7)
Despite their tremendous form in the last part of the season (six wins in their last seven matches), the Basques need to once again overcome the odds and beat Fenerbahce three times to qualify to the Final Four.
Can Fenerbahce put an end to Baskonia’s impressive run?
Fenerbahce played consistently during the regular season and had no problem to secure the second place and the home-court advantage in the playoffs (21-9 record).
The Turks, with the legendary Zeljko Obradovic as the head coach, have a very talented and deep roster that can offer decent solutions on both ends of the floor.
With Kostas Sloukas, Brad Wanamaker and Jan Vesely as the leaders and most players ready to make the difference, the defending champions are one of the grand favourites to go all the way to the end.
Having the best defensive line in the entire Euroleague (conceding 73.6 points per game), coach Obradovic will rely on his excellent defensive plays in order to stop Baskonia’s offensive productivity and take the upper hand in the series.
Moreover, if Fenerbahce retain their shooting percentage (53.5% in two pointers, 42.4% in three pointers) at high levels, they will make the Basques’ effort to escape from Istanbul with the victory much more difficult.
Fenerbahce’s defence will be one of the decisive factors in the series. Given how crucial the matches will be, the Turks will play very tough from the beginning of the match. With Baskonia scoring 82.9 points per game, they need to concede fewer than 75 points in order to have the upper hand in Game 1 (18/4, 19:15 CET).
Will Baskonia be in great shape against the defending champions?
The Spaniards made a tremendous run in the last part of the season and not only did they qualify to the postseason, but look determined to dethrone the current champions.
Although they started the season in the worst way possible (one win, five losses), the arrival of coach Pedro Martinez turned things around for Baskonia.
The Basques were steadily enhancing their performance and have been unstoppable in the past two months.
Despite losing to Anadolu Efes at home in the last round of the regular season (79-81), they won eight of their last 11 games and finished seventh in the standings (16-14 record).
Coach Martinez has created a balanced team, which is very dangerous both from the three-point range (39.8%) and inside the paint (55.9% in two-pointers), with Tornike Shengelia, Jayson Granger and Rodrigue Beaubois being the reference points.
Baskonia averages 86.1 points in their last seven Euroleague matches, where they were defeated once only (to Anadolu Efes at home, 79-81), so an identical number will probably let them claim the victory on Wednesday.
If they play at the same high standards as in the last few months, then it will not be a surprise if they eliminate the defending champions and advance to the Final Four.
The Basques should improve their defensive performance, as they allow their opponents to score 79.1 points per game (with Fenerbahce averaging 79.4 points), so they should prevent the defending champions from reaching these numbers.
Certainly, the performance of key players, like Shengelia and Beaubois, will be the key in their effort to win the game, while Granger’s presence is doubtful for the first two games, due to injury.
Prediction: Fenerbahce to win the series 3-2
Olympiacos Piraeus (3) vs Zalgiris Kaunas (6)
Despite losing twice to the Lithuanians in the regular season (74-68, 85-86), Olympiacos have the quality and experience to put an end to Zalgiris’ hopes to qualify to the Final Four.
Will the injuries affect the “Reds”?
The Greeks haven’t played very well recently (four losses in their last five matches), but their biggest concern is the injuries that key players have suffered.
With Giorgos Printezis and Kim Tillie still being out of action and Janis Strelnieks being doubtful for Games 1 and 2, coach Giannis Sfairopoulos should find alternative ways to cover the absence of the aforementioned players.
Even though it is still unknown whether the three players will be medically cleared to compete in Game 1 (18/4, 20:15 CET), the “Reds” will rely on the duo of Vassilis Spanoulis and Nikola Milutinov to make the difference offensively.
Concurrently, the return to action of versatile forward Kostas Papanikolaou will offer decent solutions on both ends of the floor, as the “Reds” need to drastically improve their three-point percentage (33.4%, the worst in the league) in order to make their playing style less predictable.
Olympiacos have the second best defensive line in the league (conceding 75 points per game), so their target will be to force the Lithuanians to score 75 or fewer points.
Given they have conceded 86.8 points in their last five matches, the “Reds” should be more concentrated and play much better defensively in order to avoid any major upsets.
Can Zalgiris beat Olympiacos three more times?
The Lithuanians have made a great season so far and now want to take it to the next level and eliminate one of the favourites to win the title.
Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius has created an excellent team that can be very competitive for 40 minutes and is not afraid of any opponent.
The squad will rely on Kevin Pangos and Paulius Jankunas, who have played consistently during the regular season, to make the difference, while Arturas Milaknis and Aaron White will have a central role in coach Jasikevicius’ tactics.
Jasikevicius will try to control the tempo of the game and his target is to see his players run in transition and score 80+ points in order to improve their chances to beat the Greeks.
Last but not least, their shooting percentage, especially from beyond the arc, will determine whether they will remain competitive for the whole game or not.
Prediction: Olympiacos to win the series 3-1
Panathinaikos (4) vs Real Madrid (5)
All bets are off in the match-up between Panathinaikos and Real Madrid, as the hosts will try to protect their home court and come closer to their first Final Four appearance since 2012.
Will the “Greens” exploit the home-court advantage?
Panathinaikos started the season in high expectations, yet their inability to be victorious on the road was the biggest obstacle they had to overcome en route to the postseason.
With just six wins in 15 away games, they had to prevail over their opponents at home in order to maintain a top four push.
And they did exactly that, as they won 13 of their 15 matches at home and finished fourth (19-11 record), with Real Madrid and Olympiacos having identical records.
Nick Calathes, who is one of the MVP candidates, is the undisputed leader, with James Gist, Chris Singleton and K.C Rivers as the supporting cast.
The acquisition of Mike James and Adreian Payne offered two extra “weapons” for coach Pascual, although they both need to better adapt to the team’s playing style.
What the squad should improve, though, is their terrible free-throw percentage (67.9%, the worst in the league) as well as the level of concentration, as they have failed to remain competitive for 40 minutes.
The “Greens” will try to take advantage of their home court, where they have lost only twice this season (to rivals Olympiacos and CSKA Moscow), while their home game against Real Madrid in the regular season was decided in the last minute (82-80).
Will the “Whites” depth and talent be a game changer?
The Madrid squad lost the home-court advantage in the last round of the regular season, so they now need to escape from Athens with (at least) one victory.
Despite facing many injuries throughout the season, the “Whites” have a very deep and talented roster that can dominate their opponents.
Luka Doncic will be the number one threat for coach Xavi Pascual and his players, while the effectiveness of the supporting cast will be the key in the team’s effort to beat the six-time Euroleague champions.
Fabien Causeur, Felipe Reyes, Gustavo Ayon and Anthony Randolph, among others, should step up and help Doncic, otherwise things will be very difficult for coach Pablo Laso and his players, who will try to score in transition and prevent Calathes (8.15 assists per game) from creating open shots for his teammates.
The side’s offensive productivity (86.5 points, second-best in the league) will be a decisive factor in Game 1 (17/4, 20:15 CET), so if the Spaniards manage to score 80+ points, it will be more likely for them to claim the victory and turn things around in the series.
Last but not least, the return to action of 2017 MVP Sergio Llull could be a game changer in the series, in case coach Laso decides to give him some playing time.
Prediction: Real Madrid to win the series 1-3
Overall, all four series are expected to be ultra competitive, with CSKA Moscow, Fenerbahce and Olympiacos entering their respective series as the favourites.