The day basketball fans around the globe have waited all summer for is here! The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague returns Thursday with 10 teams active on opening night. Four of them will share the spotlight in two simultaneous tip-offs at 19:00 CET. Three more games will follow on Thursday before a trio of Friday night games wraps up Round 1. Only eight teams will survive the first round of action with a perfect record! Welcome back to Europe’s premier basketball competition, the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
One of the two early games on Friday brings together two teams making their EuroLeague returns, Khimki Moscow Region and Valencia Basket, who meet at 19:00 CET at Mytishchi Arena in the Russian capital. Reigning 7DAYS EuroCup MVP Alexey Shved is the leader of an athletic Khimki side, which will likely be stingy on defense as all Coach Georgios Bartzokas teams tend to be. Three-time All-EuroCup selection Bojan Dubljevic is the go-to guy for Valencia. This will be the first ever meeting in the EuroLeague between the sides and the team that takes the inaugural win will also start the EuroLeague season with a positive record.
Two young and talented squads open their respective EuroLeague seasons against one another when Zalgiris Kaunas hosts Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade Friday at 19:00 CET. Each team has only three players in their 30s and though those veterans, like Zalgiris power forward Paulius Jankunas and his Zvezda counterpart Pero Antic, will play key roles each team will also need some of their rising stars to get the job done. Each team boasts a French newcomer, Axel Toupane for Zalgiris and Mathias Lessort for Zvezda, who could be a key difference maker.
Round 1 wraps up with a battle between two old rivals, FC Barcelona Lassa and Panathinaikos superfoods Athens, at Palau Blaugrana at 21:00 CET. The game is a homecoming for the Greens head coach Xavi Pascual, who coached Barcelona from 2008 until 2016 and led it to the 2010 EuroLeague title. There will also be an interesting clash in the backcourt between Barcelona playmaker Phil Pressey and Panathinaikos guard Marcus Denmon, who were college teammates. Barcelona veterans Juan Carlos Navarro and Ante Tomic and Panathinaikos shooter K.C. Rivers are all on the verge of personal milestones that should be tracked.
Two teams with longstanding roles atop the continental basketball pyramid will get the ball bouncing this season when CSKA Moscow hosts AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan. Both teams underwent significant changes over the summer and fans will be eager to see how each team looks in the opener. CSKA, which has won four straight against Milan, added a few new faces over the summer and will have a much different look in the backcourt where former MVP Sergio Rodriguez and Leo Westermann slot in alongside another former MVP, Nando De Colo. After producing the league’s top-ranked attack three years running, CSKA should again be an offensive dynamo. Milan starts the season with nine new players and five with no previous EuroLeague experience. Coach Simone Pianigiani, who has found success in the past with star-studded backcourts, can turn to Jordan Theodore and Andrew Goudelock to try and keep pace with CSKA as Milan looks to rise to the top after a down season.
The other game sharing the opening tip spotlight takes place where last season ended, in Istanbul, Turkey. Anadolu Efes hosts Real Madrid with both teams looking to start on the right foot. Efes team captain Dogus Balbay welcomes three EuroLeague newcomers to the backcourt, while veterans Derrick Brown and Bryant Dunston lead the charge up front. Efes struggled out of the gate last season before rallying to make the playoffs and Coach Velimir Perasovic will surely have his team hyped and ready to claim an opening night win. Madrid, which has won six of its last seven games against Efes – including a 3-1 series victory in the 2015 playoffs, was able to keep the overwhelming majority of last season’s team, which boasted the best record in the regular season. However a knee injury to reigning MVP Sergio Llull will change many things for Los Blancos, the superstar teenager Luka Doncic may be just the right man to fill his shoes.
Led by a pair of former Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv players, Brose Bamberg will look to continue its superb recent form against the Israeli powerhouse when they clash at 20:00 CET. Bamberg, which swept Maccabi last season by an average margin of victory of 15 points, enters the season with an experienced roster and many of the players that helped the squad contend for a playoff berth last season are back. The situation is different with Maccabi in which new head coach Neven Spahija inherits only one player from last season’s underperforming team. A series of preseason injuries plagued the Maccabi backcourt, which could affect the team’s performance on opening night. For Bamberg, Ricky Hickman, who won the 2014 EuroLeague with Maccabi, and Quincy Miller, will look to shine bright against their former squad.
Winner of five straight games against Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz, Olympiacos Piraeus will look to keep that streak going when the teams meet on Thursday at 20:00 CET at Heraklion Arena in Crete (and not in Pireaus). The Reds not only have owned Baskonia in recent years, but they also added a veteran member of the Baskonia frontline over the summer, Kim Tillie. Olympiacos relies on its veteran core led by Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis, while center Nikola Milutinov has also looked strong in the preseason. Baskonia enters the season under a rookie head coach, Pablo Prigioni, and with a host of newcomers, though many of them are experienced at Europe’s top level. It will be a tough test for Baskonia in the opener on the road against last season’s runner up.
The final game on opening night could also be called the Euroleague Basketball SuperCup as it pits last season’s 7DAYS EuroCup champion, Unicaja Malaga, against the reigning Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion, Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul, at 21:00 CET. Unicaja returns to the EuroLeague after a one-year absence with a seasoned roster. Coach Joan Plaza has plenty of experience, talent and depth and they will couple that with the team’s passionate crowds to challenge Fenerbahce. The visitors enter the season with a new look, but just as powerful as ever after adding two members of last season’s All-EuroLeague team to the squad. Fenerbahce looked strong in the preseason and will look to start the season on the right foot.
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