Showdown in Lombardy

Bayern aims to hold its own against Italian all-star team Armani Milan

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It all started with a great matchup three and a half months ago: In the EuroLeague opener, the Bayern basketball team had the huge favorites Armani Milan on the brink of defeat at the beginning of October. Captain Djedovic even had the winning basket in his hands three seconds before the end but just missed and n overtime the star ensemble from Lombardy put the game away, 81-79. The Munich team missed out on their first upset, but nevertheless provided a blueprint for the rest of the season. The FCBB has been more than competitive in almost all games in the top league so far, and with twelve wins after 20 games, it is even in the crowded field of candidates for the playoffs being sixth place in the standings.

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On Thursday evening (Jan. 21, 20:45./MagentaSport), Milan and Bayern will meet again for the second matchup of the Euroleague season. The hosts are directly in front of Bayern in the standings with one lesss loss (12-7) and have won three straight games. The team of veteran coach Ettore Messina managed an 80-76 upset at Real Madrid before defeating Valencia (95-80) and Berlin (84-70). The leaders of the Italian Serie A (14-1) are now the best three-point team in the EuroLeague shooting  42.6 percent (FCBB: 38.2).

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Ten threes alone in the last two games (on 14 attempts, a total of 41 points) went to the account of Luigi Datome. The long-time Fenerbahce forward was one of the notable additions of the financially strong Italians this summer. Datome (58.5%) and colleague Zach LeDay (54%, 10.6 ppg) are currently ranked second and third in the EuroLeague three-point rankings. However, top scorer is re-signed US guard Kevin Punter (14.2 ppg) ahead of Shavon Shields (12.6), former Bayern playmaker Malcolm Delaney (11.7/4.2 apg), LeDay and ex-NBA pro Sergio Rodriguez (10/4.7 apg).

No team is more experienced than Armani Olimpia; coach Messina alone, who is in his 15th EuroLeague season, and center Kyle Hines, who transferred from defending champion ZSKA Moscow, have each won Europe's top competition four times. Accordingly, the Italians move with experience through the most physical league in the world. Tthe only 11.5 turnovers on average are the second best of all18 teams (FCBB: 12.4 TOpg).

"Milan is probably one of the hottest teams in the EuroLeague right now, they play very well, win big games and are the best team in the entire league in shooting from outside with an unbelievable 43 percent from the three-point line," said Bayern coach Andrea Trinchieri, who returns to the bench after his break against Hamburg (85-71) in his home country. "We've played them before and the key will be to stay in the game mentally, even if they hit big shots at times." FCBB co-captain Vladimir Lucic added: "They are a great team, certainly one of the best in the league and in very good form right now. They are led by some very experienced players who have been at this level for many years and have also won the EuroLeague several times. Their coach Ettore Messina is also insanely experienced, from his long time in the EuroLeague, but also in the NBA. In the first game they played well and lost very narrowly after overtime - we expect a close and tough game on Thursday in Milan."

Indeed, both teams are no strangers to close duels against each other. A year ago, Bayern lost by a razor-thin 79-78 margin, and the 78-64 win last season in Munich was the clearest result so far. Two years ago, the FCBB managed a narrow 80-78 road win. After seven meetings, Milan has the edge with a 4-3 record.

Bayern is still short of players: Zan Mark Sisko and Robin Amaize are out and the return of Nihad Djedovic is still uncertain.      

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