|1||LAST WEEK: Won 90-71 vs. Anadolu Efes
THIS WEEK: Friday at Alba Berlin
Anadolu Efes’ quarterly outputs against CSKA this week dropped from 24 in the first, to 18 in the second, 16 in the third and 13 in the closing period. Games against the Russians aren’t so much wars of attrition as much as they are guarantees that their opponents will erode in the face of such tremendous depth. And with veteran Drew Nicholas mercifully out of the picture, Temple product Dionte Christmas joined the club in week five and has shot the lights out ever since, going 14-of-24 (58.3 percent) from deep. So let’s add the Euroleague’s most accurate three-point shooter to a perimeter with Milos Teodosic, Aaron Jackson and now, Granddaddy Papaloukas.
|2||LAST WEEK: Won 100-78 vs. Fenerbahce Ulker
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. Montepaschi Siena
Nevermind the way Barcelona broke the scoreboards and Fenerbahce’s will this past week in the Top 16 opener. Juan Carlos Navarro scored 33 points on 13 shots in ‘El Clasico’ to hand archival Real Madrid their first loss in fifteen Spanish League games. La Bomba was 7-of-8 from two, 5-of-5 from three and 4-of-4 from the line. It was not only one of the best moments of the year in European basketball; it was one of the all-time great scoring displays in international basketball history. For everyone who wishes to define Navarro’s greatness by what he did in one year with Memphis, this Bomba’s for you.
|3||Real Madrid (1-0; 8-3)||LAST WEEK: Won 77-63 at Alba Berlin
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Bamberg
Los Blancos were oh-so-close to making it through 2012 without a blemish on their ACB record, but alas, Juan Carlos Navarro happened. Their Top 16 got off to a fast, if unsurprising start, with a win in Berlin, but a road win at this point in the season should never be discounted. Neither should the play of Sergio Llull this year, who has posted six or more assists and one or zero turnovers in three of nine games this season. In five Euroleague seasons before this, he had only done that once.
|4||Olympiacos (0-1; 8-3)||LAST WEEK: Lost 82-74 at Caja Laboral
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. Besiktas
Greater teams have traveled to Vitoria-Gasteiz and left town chapfallen. But Olympiacos has something those teams didn’t: a 7-foot-1 Georgian center waiting in the wings to fill its greatest void. The Reds stay here until I see what Giorgi Shermadini brings to the table. I believe that whatever it is, it will be bountiful.
|5||Khimki Moscow (1-0; 7-4)||LAST WEEK: Won 80-75 at Besiktas
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. Barcelona
Vitaly Fridzon has posted double figures in every game since a week one loss to Fenerbahce Ulker (that looks a little worse now, huh?), and recorded five steals this week in a road win against Besiktas, where Deron Williams’ jersey hangs ominously from the rafters (that looks a little worse now, huh?) and the fans are boisterous. Yet just as he silently led Russia through the Olympics as NBC reminded us after every commercial break that both Andrei Kirilenko and Aleksey Shved would be joining the Timberwolves, Vitaly’s done almost everything right through 11 Euroleague games, even as Zoran Planinic has drawn most of the praise. I know I’m not supposed to play favorites, but he’d be on my handpicked squad of 12 if I were a GM. The man doesn’t mess around.
|6||Panathinaikos (1-0; 7-4)||LAST WEEK: Won 77-76 vs. Zalgiris
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Anadolu Efes
Jason Kapono’s 16-point debut (in just 17 minutes) turned into an event, but the player of the game in the Greens’ 67-66 win against Zalgiris was Michael Bramos, the Miami (Ohio) graduate who has defended admirably all season long on the perimeter and made five threes this week—one more than Kapono. His continued growth and Jonas Maciulis’ resurgence from injury are two of the reasons that Panathinaikos hasn’t taken the step back that many projected once Zeljko Obradovic and a slew of veterans left the club this summer. Dimitris Diamantidis’ groin is now the team’s main concern, as DD will miss at least this week and perhaps more time due to injury.
|LAST WEEK: Lost 67-66 at Panathinaikos
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. Unicaja
The Lithuanians fought back after a rough, 13-point first quarter to come within a Darjus Lavrinovic jumper of stealing a win in Athens. Not bad. While I’ve bought into the everyone-gets-a-bite offensive approach, the one dimension still missing from this team is a dynamic shot changer on the inside, and Jeff Foote isn’t remotely close to being able to keep up with Joan Plaza’s pace. Luckily for Plaza, Tremmell Darden and Co. don’t allow many free runs to the bucket.
|8||Caja Laboral (1-0; 5-6)||LAST WEEK: Won 82-74 vs. Olympiacos
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Maccabi
Baskonia has now won four straight Euroleague games after losing their previous four, and Maciej Lampe looks fully healthy for the first time since 2010-11, when he won the Eurocup with UNICS Kazan and had one of the best seasons of any big in all of Europe. He put up 17 points in 23 minutes per game in December and pried Caja Laboral from the jaws of elimination, which were nearly closed after week seven. To celebrate his team’s unexpected arrival to the Top 16, he scored 25 points against the defending champions, Olympiacos, and put Caja Laboral right back in a position they once knew well: in the thick of the Final Four discussion.
|9||Unicaja (1-0; 9-2)||LAST WEEK: Won 85-82 vs. Bamberg
THIS WEEK: Friday at Zalgiris
Andy Panko might have gotten his tapas comped this week in Malaga after scoring 16 and sealing the victory with two big free throws in his Unicaja debut. He is such a huge upgrade over James Gist in this offense that this Unicaja-Panathiniakos trade still doesn’t seem real to me.
|10||Montepaschi Siena (1-0; 6-5)||LAST WEEK: Won 79-69 vs. Maccabi
THIS WEEK: Friday at Fenerbahce Ulker
It’s easy to see that Siena leads the league in threes and think “Oh, that’s just the Bobby Brown talking.” But it’s Brown’s teammates, Matt Janning (55 percent) and Kristjan Kangur (54.5 percent) that rank among the top five in three-point marksmanship this season. It should also be noted that Tomas Ress, grey hair and all at age 32, is having his best-ever Euroleague campaign after eight others with Pesaro (1), Bologna (2) and Siena (5), averaging nearly 10 a game and hitting more than a three each time out. Not bad for a 6-foot-10 center who averaged just 3.2 ppg in his first 131 games in the EL.
|11||Maccabi Tel Aviv (0-1; 8-3)||LAST WEEK: Lost 79-69 at Montepaschi Siena
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. Caja Laboral
David Blatt has now let Milan Macvan and Giorgi Shermadini walk in consecutive seasons. If you ask me, that’s a damn good Euroleague starting front court. I don’t doubt that he’ll coach his way out of it—he’s one of the best on the planet in finding guys willing to execute his gameplan—but with Caja Laboral and Khimki looking more and more dangerous each week and Olympiacos and Barcelona thinking London, a playoff spot is nowhere near a lock for the Group B champs.
|12||Bamberg (0-1; 3-8)||LAST WEEK: Lost 85-82 at Unicaja
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. Real Madrid
After winning the game of the season against Partizan to clinch a Top 16 berth in week 10, momentum carried the Germans right through the two-week break and into a white hot first quarter in Malaga, as Casey Jacobsen, John Goldsberry and Anton Gavel all hit threes as part of a 15-0 run after the tip. The fans in Malaga sank into their seats, gripped with fear at the thought of an opening game embarrassment to a team that had picked up just three wins in the regular season. And at home? It was all too Unicaja to believe. But it was Bamberg that looked anxious midway through the third, as they let a 61-50 lead evaporate and then dumbly fouled Andy Panko intentionally with 28.1 seconds left and down 82-80. Panko punished them for their questionable late-game strategy and hit them both. Momentum: gone.
|13||Besiktas(0-1; 5-6)||LAST WEEK: Lost 80-75 vs. Khimki Moscow
THIS WEEK: Friday at Olympiacos
Besiktas didn’t play all too poorly against Khimki, and even won the battle in the paint against one of the tougher front courts left in the competition, out rebounding the Russians 37 to 27 and hitting 66 percent of their attempts from inside. Yet while there might not be a team on this list that plays harder than Besiktas game to game, sloppiness is too often their undoing. Take their 20 turnovers against Khimki, for example.
|14||Fenerbahce Ulker (0-1; 5-6)||LAST WEEK: Lost 100-78 at Barcelona
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. Montepaschi Siena
Romain Sato was the only player on this roster that showed up in Barcelona ready to play basketball. I mean physical, angry, sweaty basketball. It’s what Barcelona dishes out weekly, but it must have felt like a rugby scrum to Fenerbahce, who rolled over shortly after the ref threw the ball in the air. Bojan Bogdanovic was almost worthy of praise for his hard, if unsuccessful, takes early, but when replays showed he was flopping almost habitually, I thought better of it.
|15||Anadolu Efes (0-1; 5-6)||LAST WEEK: Lost 90-71 at CSKA Moscow
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. Panathinaikos
After putting up 12, 13 and 10 in the season’s first three weeks, 2010-11 All-Euroleague Second Teamer Dusko Savanovic hasn’t reached double figures once and is customarily manhandled whenever anyone throws a hip into him down low. If the offense isn’t there (33 percent from the field), his inclusion in the line-up is just like the guys he guards: increasingly difficult to defend.
|16||ALBA Berlin (0-1; 4-7)||LAST WEEK: Lost 77-63 vs. Real Madrid
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. CSKA Moscow
This team’s strength—or its lesser of two weaknesses—was supposed to be its offense. But Berlin’s 63-point outing against Madrid this past week made four straight EL games in which they’ve failed to reach 65. I doubt they’ll fare any better against CSKA Moscow, who allow the third fewest points in the league.
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