NBA

Euroleague: Expect an intense battle as Milano take on Baskonia in the race for the playoffs

January 16, 2019January 6th, 2022

WITH exactly 60 per cent of the EuroLeague’s regular season now behind us, the race for the playoff places has definitely taken a recognisable shape.

No team, not even 16-2 leaders Fenerbahce, has mathematically qualified for the top eight as yet. Only a matter of time in reality.

But there is a notable separation among the 16 sides headed into Round 17 of the campaign.

The top three exactly as expected last autumn, with Fener and R Madrid duelling for top spot and CSKA Moscow – a mild disappointment – just behind.

The grouping of Olympiacos, FC Barcelona and over-achieving Efes Istanbul probably secure for the post-season.

But then behind, the scramble promises to be intense.

Just three wins separate Bayern Munich (9-9) in seventh from Gran Canaria (6-12) in 14th. The points differential of the Canary Islanders is hideous. It would necessitate a remarkable ascent to get back into contention. However, it illustrates how the middle pack now badly needs to poach wins off one another to survive the cut when it comes.

A prime example comes on Friday when eighth-placed Baskonia host ninth-ranked Olimpia Milano with each possessing identical 8-10 record and points differentials of +10.

The Basque giants, the hosts of this year’s Final Four, rallied from the season-ending injury to Jayson Granger to defeat Gran Canaria last week thanks to a vintage rolling-back-the-years performance from Marcelo Huertas.

Baskonia are 4-3 at home and, to their benefit, seven of their concluding 12 games will be on their own floor where they have not so far lost to any of the teams sitting below then in the standings. All that, despite scoring just 78.4 points per night on their court while conceding a mere 72.5.

However Milano – coming off consecutive reverses – are the biggest scorers on their travels, racking up a league-high 87.4 per game while also conceding 85.9, similar to the pace shown when they beat Baskonia 93-90 in Italy earlier in Round 8, meaning they have now won the last three meetings between these two sides. Only twice so far have they been involved in games with a total of under 160 points.

Going under 168.5 here is good value still at 1.91 but expect such games to be ferocious from now on with points differential, especially in the fourth quarter, set to be a factor as the mathematics of head-to-head tiebreakers come ever more into play.

Best bet: Take Baskonia at -5.5 over Olimpia Milano.

By contrast, bottom side Darussafaka seem to have only pride to play for with a 2-16 record heading into this week’s Istanbul derby with high-flying Efes.

The strugglers lost 93-88 when these local rivals squared off in the EuroLeague earlier in the campaign and also lost out in their Turkish League match-up.

Efes is 7-0 this term when scoring at least 90 points, one reason why they are averaging 89.4 points in wins. YetDarussafaka has averaged a mere 68 during their present three-game slump so the total could still end up under 165 points, available at 1.87 with the hosts worth a look even on a handicap of –13.