NBA

EuroLeague: The battle for the playoffs intensifies as Zalgiris look to get in the mix

February 27, 2019January 6th, 2022

NOW that the EuroLeague’s Big Three have – inevitably – booked their spot in the playoffs, the meat has truly been thrown into the middle of the lions' den to ascertain who is nimblest and fiercest in grabbing the remaining five berths.

With seven rounds left, only bottom side Darussafaka is officially eliminated from contention.

And even if Gran Canaria and Buducnost, with 6-17 records, are probably dead and buried, that leaves ten teams still in the hunt.

Baskonia, on 11-12, currently possess the eighth spot above the cut-off line, and their home clash with Zalgiris Kaunas this week is one of two contests on Thursday pitting two contenders into gladiatorial combat.

Not quite double or quits, but close to it for the Lithuanians who need to make up two wins and could really do with reversing an 87-79 loss in Round 1 to pinch a precious head to head.

Brandon Davies has posted an index rating in double figures in five of his last six EuroLeague games and that form could be vital for Zalgiris who finally snapped a three-game losing skid last week.

The Final Four hosts are an anomaly in that no team averages more points on the road, but they also convert the fewest at home at 80.20. Nevertheless, that could still trouble the men from Kaunas who are notching only 76.4 on their travels, with a punt under 154 points available at 1.90.

With such contests now carrying the air of playoff games, expect defences to tighten in the weeks ahead. And Baskonia has every impetus to win now.

Of their closing seven duels, the next four are against opponents sitting below them in the table, before their last three bring members of the current top four.

Compare that with Bayern Munich, presently holding an identical record, who have five games against lower-ranked sides, Maccabi Tel Aviv (four), Panathinaikos (three) and Khimky Moscow (one).

The pressure is on. And the more wins in the bank, the better.

Best bet: Take Zalgiris at +6.5 against Baskonia. – 23/25

 

The other mid-table scrap pits Khimky against Olimpia Milano with the Italians – along with Olympiacos – on a 12-11 record and looking to pull away from the jungle below.

Milan edged Khimki 81-80 on Mike James's free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining in Round 4 this season and their consistent approach has paid off with James and Vladimir Micov starting every EuroLeague game this season at a point when few others have had a single constant starter.

A boost for the Russians is the expected return of the league’s leading scorer Alexey Shved after missing 14 consecutive games due to a finger injury.

Although Jordan Mickey and Malcolm Thomas have been combining for 38 points average over the last three games, it is defence they will need to keep their slim hopes of catching the top eight alive, especially with the visitors winning four straight at just the right time – and who are a solid bet at 2.28 to make it five.

FULL MATCH BETTING

And on Friday, don’t miss another re-match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, two weeks after the Catalans edged their rivals in an overtime Copa Del Rey final classic

Barcelona is set to retire the jersey of Juan Carlos Navarro, the EuroLeague's all-time top scorer, a two-time champion and seven-time All-EuroLeague selection, who retired last summer.

He may inspire. Although Real has scored more than 100 points in each of their last two visits to the Palau Blaugrana in EuroLeague action, winning both by an average margin of 33 points, Barca’s defensive improvement should keep it tight, even it’s worth looking over 170 total points.