The race for the playoffs heats up as the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague begins another double-round week Tuesday.
Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahçe (11-10) will host one of last week’s biggest winners, Maccabi Tel Aviv (10-11), in Istanbul on Tuesday. The Israeli side boosted its playoff chances by defeating CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid in the last rounds. But, this time it will have to overcome Fenerbahçe duo Nando De Colo and Jan Vesely, who perhaps are working together better than any other pairs in the competition right now. They combined for 46 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists and five steals to down CSKA.
The two former EuroLeague MVPs have played key roles in their team's six-game winning streak, transforming a season of underachievement into a real attempt for a place in the playoffs.
Tackling De Colo and Vesely will be Maccabi’s biggest concern as it travels to Istanbul, aiming to climb level with Fenerbahçe on 11 wins.
A superb 30-point performance by Tyler Dorsey was crucial in Maccabi’s win over Real last week, but finding defensive stops will be key to the outcome of this one.
The other Turkish team in the tournament, Anadolu Efes Istanbul, continued its rocky season last week after falling to Zenit Saint Petersburg.
The defeat leaves Ergin Ataman's men with an 11-10 record, holding onto the eighth place with four other teams.
Efes, the standings leader last season, starts this week's action with a home game against Crvena Zvezda (7-14) on Tuesday.
The Serbian side has faced problems on offense all season and is currently the lowest-scoring team in the league with only 74.1 points per game (ppg).
Efes will then hit the road on Thursday to Tel Aviv for Maccabi's second big game of the week against the playoffs hopefuls from Istanbul.
Zenit aims for top two spot
This season’s biggest surprise Zenit St Petersburg (13-6) will be looking at the top two spots after showing admirable consistency to go up to third in the table.
This week, however, Xavi Pascual's men will face their biggest challenge yet as they travel to Barcelona (15-6) and AC Armani Exchange Milan (13-7).
Tuesday's game at Palau Blaugrana will be particularly special for the Zenit head coach. It was his home for 12 years. He led the Barca B team before serving as an assistant coach. Pascual then took over the senior team in 2008, leading them to regular successes in the next eight years, including the 2010 EuroLeague title and four Spanish league titles.
The game at Milan on Thursday will be another major challenge, but Zenit will not be overwhelmed after already being on a league-best record for eight wins on the road.
On the plus side, the Russian side’s title credentials will be undeniable if they can clinch two victories from this week's trips to Barcelona and Milan.
In another Round 22 tie with direct impact on the top eight race will see Valencia Basket (11-10) host Zalgiris Kaunas (12-9) on Wednesday.
In the meantime, Greek side Panathinaikos (7-13), who is fresh off its first win under new coach Oded Kattash, will be hoping to use that momentum for a late playoffs challenge.
Panathinaikos’ next challenge is a big one as it travels to Real Madrid (13-8) on Wednesday. It will aim to end a 10-game losing streak against the Spanish giant.