TWO weeks remain in the EuroLeague regular season.
With the top four teams which will have home advantage in the quarter-final series cemented, solely the question of which trio will fill the vacancies left in the playoff is still unanswered.
Remarkably, seven enter the penultimate round in contention. And a scheduling fluke decrees that only one game pits one fringe hopeful against another with possible qualification on the line.
Unquestionably, Olympiacos have been this year’s grand disappointments. Currently ninth, the Greek giants have suffered the painful humiliation of watching Panathinaikos’ late burst up the standings while their challenge has wilted.
— Artin Hojat (@ArtinHojat) March 22, 2019
Defeat in Athens to Zalgiris Kaunas on Friday could leave the 2011 and 2012 EuroLeague champions out in the cold. Unthinkable when they hired David Blatt as head coach last summer with a mandate to bring back a title.
It hasn’t helped that talisman veteran Vassilis Spanoulis and his backcourt partner Janis Strelnieks have been sitting out through injury over the past two weeks. But the slump began long before. Olympiakos are 3-8 over their last 11 games and 1-7 on the road since surprising FC Barcelona in mid-season.
As their bench goes, however, so does the team. And The Reds have looked infinitely more comfortable on their own court, where they average 82.1 points per game than on the road (73.5).
Their situation is perilous. But in their favour is the upper hand in some prime head-to-heads that will be used as the initial tiebreaker in the event of equal records.
— World of Basketball (@wofbasketball) March 23, 2019
Among their chief foes, only Olimpia Milano tops the Greeks. Baskonia, Bayern Munich, Panathinaikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv have all effectively ceded the season series while Olympiacos need to win by nine points or more to snare an advantage over Zalgiris who rallied in the second half to snatch an 83-75 victory in Kaunas in Round 11.
Add to that, the bonus of hosting lowly Darussafaka in their last game and they could not ask for a better shot.
This, however, is win or bust for the Lithuanians who are just 2.55 to get a result that keeps their hopes alive. History is in the visitors favour with six victories out of seven in recent meetings between these two although a loss for the hosts might not be fatal if other outcomes go their way.
Regardless, even if Olympiacos beat the cut, they’ll likely meet one of the Big Three in the post-season. And then depart. Far from the lofty aspirations set back in Week 1.
Torcida do Panathinaikos numa partida de basketball!
Que atmosfera incrível. pic.twitter.com/s4gEfct9zP
— NO PYRO, NO PARTY (@iloveetorcidas) March 27, 2019
Two goliaths square off in the other side of the Greek capital on Thursday when Panathinaikos host Real Madrid.
The Rick Pitino Revolution has been dramatic and effective. The Greens are the hottest team in the league with six straight wins – and a seventh would secure a playoff berth.
Real Madrid, which has lost three of its last four road games, retains an outside chance of overhauling Fenerbahce and CSKA Moscow for top seed but that is a long shot.
With infinitely more for the home side at stake, Pana to win by at least four points at 1.89 seems a solid punt.
And although they have scored over 90 points in four of their previous six, Real’s defence has a habit of stepping up in big games which might keep the combined total under 161.