The swing doors leading towards the EuroLeague playoffs are still going back and forth in the wind.
But with just five rounds of the regular season remaining, the time is fast approaching when they will be locked shut.
Which is why Thursday’s clash between Maccabi Tel Aviv and the visiting Efes Pilsen carries so much weight.
— Maccabi Tel Aviv BC (@MaccabitlvBC) March 11, 2019
Victory for the Israeli champions would bring them into the top eight for the first time this season, a reward for going 7-2 over their last nine outings to reverse the damage done by an extraordinary 1-8 opening to the campaign.
The schedule at the outset was, in retrospect, brutal. In the initial two months, Maccabi faced just two teams who presently have a worse record than their present 12-13 mark.
Efes trounced them 90-77 when they met in Round 8 in November when the hosts took the lead for good early in the second quarter, pulled away to a double-digit margin and never allowed Maccabi to come closer than four.
Yet while the men from Tel Aviv were blown out by Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in successive weeks, close games against CSKA Moscow, Fenerbahce and Olympiacos hinted things were not as bad as they seemed.
And since firing Neven Spahija and replaced him as head coach with ex-Olympiacos boss Ioannis Sfairopoulos, the only way has been up.
— Luka Bassin # (@LukaBassin) March 6, 2019
Winners of seven straight at home by an average margin of 9.7 points, Maccabi’s hopes are very much alive.
Efes, depending on results elsewhere, could clinch a playoff berth but they have dropped seven straight road games – even if they have won three out of four.
But even if the Turks come out on top, their hosts could face three consecutive opponents who are already out of post-season contention before what might be a daunting last-day trip to Fener on April 5.
Maccabi will trust they take control of their own ambitions. During their current homestand, they have conceded at a clip of 72 points per game – a trait that will give them confidence even against an Efes line-up putting up a mark of 81.33 on their travels.
That makes it worth looking under 163.5 total points at 1.91 in a contest with so much on the line.
Then I visualized how many shots attempted are "Moreyball style". So, on the x-axis, there is the sum of rim shots rate and 3-point shots rate while on the y-axis there is the mid-range shots rate. @Baskonia leads the way. pic.twitter.com/UHNqxkaB8Q
— Cappe (@Cappe90) March 11, 2019
Friday should bring a boost for Final Four hosts Baskonia when lowly Buducnost come to Spain.
The Basque outfit currently sit sixth and have the benefit of holding head-to-head tiebreakers over all the teams below them apart from Olympiakos (they meet Panathinaikos once more with a win and 9-point cushion).
And with nothing for Buducnost, Gran Canaria and Darussafaka to aim for except that oft-quoted pride, don’t be surprised if some heavy reverses come their way.