Rob Scott | @robscott33

After a thrilling, exhausting, but rarely uneventful 29 rounds, it all comes down to the final week. Daçka and Crvena Zvezda have a play-in game, and a whole bunch of other variables are up in the air for seeding. Last year’s runner-up Fenerbahce could finish anywhere from 4th to 8th, and we could be in for some sashimi-grade playoff matchups.

What we know and what we don’t

Real Madrid is Numbero Uno, no ifs, no buts, but don’t assume you don’t need to watch their final game, at home to Anadolu Efes, which has huge seeding implications. As it has been scheduled as the final game on Friday night, it will spark a thousand hilarious conspiracy theories if Efes comes out with a win.

CSKA Moscow is second. Olympiacos third. Nothing can change for those two clubs.

Everything else from four to eight is up for grabs…

Euroleague standings going into the final round of the Regular Season

Win or go home at Volkswagen Arena

The simplest equation applies to the game between Darussafaka Dogus and Crvena Zvezda, which tips off on Friday at 1900 CET in Istanbul. Whoever wins gets the final playoff spot. A home win would tie the teams at 16-14, but Daçka would have swept the season series, which is the first tiebreaker.

It should be a fascinating game, with a significant subplot. The scenario was set up last week as Daçka won in OT in Bamberg, in somewhat controversial fashion. There was a lot of angry reaction to several refereeing decisions. Whilst not entirely one-directional, the pattern of whistles certainly contributed towards Daçka’s come-from-behind victory.

There were half a dozen calls either made or missed that while perhaps only eyebrow-raising individually, when taken together invited speculation into the possible conflict of interest between Dogus Group sponsoring the league as well as one of its 16 teams, especially as that team was given a wildcard to begin with.

Of course, I don’t believe that there was an actual formal instruction. Nobody is wearing a tinfoil hat here. There could be any number of conscious and subconscious influences on refereeing decisions. But the optics of so many blown calls in favour of this team in that game are a big problem. Perception matters, and it’s something the league should take seriously.

That said, while I stand by my criticism of Daçka’s style of play and lack of pedigree – especially when compared against their direct playoff rival, not to mention dozens of other clubs with a proud history – I was too harsh on them in last week’s podcast. So, mea culpa for that.

Just as even the most egalitarian teams still isolate their best scorer on final possessions, David Blatt is scaling up that approach for these last few Euroleague games as the crunch time of their season. They are dead last in total assists, but then again, if you have scorers who can be productive in isolation, maybe that’s how you play it?

While it isn’t my taste in hoop aesthetics, they have won three of their last four games to set up this final do-or-die showdown.

Brad Wanamaker dropped 30 points and five assists in Bamberg, mainly with the ball in his hands. It was a confident, disciplined and ruthless barrage of dribble drives and pull-ups, and the question is when you can score like that, why bother complicating things?

Wanamaker is probably the third best guard on the continent, behind Sergio Llull and Milos Teodosic, and deserves credit for improving year-by-year and carefully honing his game to achieve a balance between going for the jugular and creating for others.

Will Clyburn is the other main shot creator in the Daçka offense but he usually initiates strictly for himself.

PnR Chart Simon

The chart above from Simon Jatsch is from early March, but he’s a significant outlier in terms of propensity to call his own number in pick and roll. That black dot to the far bottom right is our boy. You can also see Wilbekin on the jumpshooting side and Wanamaker right there with the elite creators/scorers in the middle. When it works for Clyburn, to the tune of 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting versus Bamberg, there aren’t many power forwards that can stay with him off the bounce. When it doesn’t, it means the ball stops and so does the offense.

Big vs small lineup chess

Back to the upcoming game, the meeting between the (sometimes) unstoppable force of Wanamaker and Clyburn’s offense and the (usually) unmovable object of Charles Jenkins and Branko Lazic on the perimeter should be fascinating.

CZ has the league’s best defensive rating, and their success is predicated on physical on-ball pressure, funnelling the ball handler into disciplined help. Jenkins and Lazic are relentless, but how they deal with Blatt’s favoured ‘small’ lineups with Adrian Moerman and Clyburn on the 4/5 could be the key factor in who wins the game.

Marko Simonovic is too slow to check Clyburn one-on-one, so its possible that Luka Mitrovic gets that task if and when Blatt goes small. But the other end of the floor matters too – Dejan Radonjic could go big with Ognjen Kuzmic in the middle, daring Daçka to have to double, although when Olympiacos collapsed their defense around the big Serb in their recent battle, Zvezda lacked the three-point shooting to force them out of it.

On the other hand, Zvezda still can’t count on getting anything from Stefan Jovic and his chronic back problem, and he missed the decisive Adriatic League playoff semi-final victory over Buducnost last night, presumably resting for Euroleague, or perhaps just unable to play?  Marko Guduric and Simonovic have been most of their offense lately, so its possible Radonjic will be unwilling to take Simonovic off the floor no matter the matchup.

Then there’s the issue of Moerman taking his man out to the three-point line – Kuzmic isn’t suited to closing out that far, so either Milko Tha God or Deon Thompson – out of the rotation lately – are more likely. Kuzmic should be on the floor when Ante Zizic is powering down the lane but Blatt’s instinct appears to be to go small and spread it out when it matters. Even if Jenkins and Blazic can nullify Wanamaker and Scottie Wilbekin off the dribble, that could swing the game – and the playoffs – in Daçka’s favour.

Best and Worst Case Scenarios Elsewhere…

The full scenarios are below but as a quick cheat sheet for the upside and downside of each team’s prospects…

#4 (18-11) Panathinaikos: Best 4th, Worst 5th

PAO will be fourth if they win in Tel Aviv on  Thursday night. If they lose and Fenerbahçe beats Barcelona the Turkish team has the head to head and would beat them out. There’s a whole bunch of other orders that could shake out depending on how many teams are tied on the same record, but it doesn’t look like PAO drops below 5th in any of them.

Key numbers if the Greens seal homecourt: 14-1. That’s their Euroleague record at OAKA this season. The sole defeat? Against Olympiacos on a Printezis buzzer beater in November. James Gist is back and he’s not even the scariest dude in uniform at OAKA…

MrGreen

#5 (17-12) Baskonia: Best 5th, Worst 8th

The Basque team can’t dislodge anyone from homecourt advantage but they do have the head to head over Fenerbahçe, and the same record of 17-12, shared also with Anadolu Efes. Worst case scenario they lose to Zalgiris at home (unlikely to begin with) which coupled with wins for PAO, Fenerbahçe, Crvena Zvezda and Anadolu Efes would kick them down to 8th.

#6 (17-12) Anadolu Efes: Best 5th, Worst 7th

Anadolu Efes heads to Madrid having won eight of the last nine games. Madrid has literally nothing to play for, and despite a deep, deep rotation, is struggling to dominate domestically, slipping to 3rd in the ACB. So, one might dare to suggest that an away victory might not be the biggest surprise. WRONG! No Madrid defeat can be honourably explained, there must be another explanation. The current leader in the clubhouse is that by losing to Efes, Madrid gives CSKA more of a chance of playing Fenerbahçe in the playoffs, guaranteeing one championship rival before the Final Four.

I don’t know if anyone has told Anthony Randolph he should try to lose, but I don’t think the dude is for listening

#7 (17-12) Fenerbahçe: Best 4th, Worst 8th

Fener can grab fourth by beating Barcelona on Thursday evening, hoping PAO lose to Maccabi at more or less the same time, and hoping Zalgiris beats Baskonia. On the other hand, if they lose, Baskonia and Efes and Crvena Zvezda win, there would be a three-way tie for 6-7-8 between Fener, CZ and Baskonia at 17-13. That’s pretty damned unlikely though.

That would leave a repeat of last season’s playoff matchup with Madrid, but in a very different context. However, I’m not sure anyone in the top 3 will be rooting for a series against Zeljko and a lineup that could be back to full strength. Revenge for last season’s final over CSKA over five games? Or for those Final Four heartbreaks by Olympiacos? With Datome and Sloukas back, that could go either way.

Most Likely Playoff Matchups

Prognostication is foolish, but since when was that an issue?

Putting it on the line, Panathinaikos should beat a Maccabi Tel Aviv team with nothing to play for, even on the road. So they should clinch homecourt advantage. I’d also back Baskonia to see off Zalgiris Kaunas at home, Fenerbahçe to see off Barcelona, Efes over Madrid and… as much as my head says otherwise, I believe in the power of Marko Guduric.

Which would leave us with:

  • #1 Real Madrid vs #8 Crvena Zvezda
  • #2 CSKA Moscow vs #7 Fenerbahçe
  • #3 Olympiacos vs #6 Anadolu Efes
  • #4 Panathinaikos vs #5 Baskonia

Will this happen? Who knows? The main thing is if it goes to seed, it would guarantee Olympiacos vs CSKA Moscow in the Final Four, which is all anybody wants out of life, surely?