Eight-times Euroleague champions Real Madrid made the knockout stages with three games to spare while Panathinaikos rekindled their hopes by beating their successful former coach Zeljko Obradovic’s Fenerbahce.
Emporio Armani Milano closed in on a last-eight berth with a 76-69 home win over Anadolu Efes Istanbul on Friday as they dream of winning Europe’s premier club competition for the first time since 1988.
Holders Olympiakos Piraeus stayed afloat with an 89-59 home rout of Kutxa Laboral Vitoria as did Russian side Lokomotiv Krasnodar with a dramatic 86-85 win at Zalgiris Kaunas, while Maccabi Tel Aviv lost 72-70 at 1992 winners Partizan Belgrade.
Real gained revenge for defeat at CSKA Moscow earlier this season with a 93-79 win as former Portland Trailblazers guard Rudy Fernandez sank 28 points, putting them top of Group F with the same 9-2 record as the already-qualified Russian champions.
Maccabi (7-4) are still likely to join them in the last eight, while the chasing pack of Bayern Munich, Galatasaray and Lokomotiv are level on five wins and six defeats in their fight for one more berth in the quarter-finals.
"I am really happy to be in the play-offs and satisfied with the job I did," Fernandez told the Euroleague website. "It comes with the hard work that the whole team did all season and this win allowed us to rectify last week's defeat at Bayern."
Milan, whose arena will host the May 16-18 Final Four, produced a strong finish to beat Efes thanks to 17 points from Curtis Jerrels and need one win in their remaining three games to be mathematically certain of reaching the last eight.
Panathinaikos won five of their six Euroleague titles under Obradovic during his 13-year spell, which also included 11 Greek championships but the Serb, 54, faces a battle to get Fenerbahce to the last eight after a night of mixed emotions in Athens.
Having been given a royal reception by Panathinaikos fans and club officials at halftime, which included a giant banner saying “The King is Back”, Obradovic saw his team overwhelmed in the final quarter as the home side romped to a 76-67 win.
“I lived here for the 13 best years of my life, the emotions are very high and I want to thank the fans and team of Panathinaikos for what they did for me tonight,” said Obradovic.
“It was very nice to be back but also very hard for me because the defeat has made the situation very difficult for Fenerbahce and it will be a real surprise if we make it to the playoffs.
“We had a very bad performance and I feel ashamed how we played in front of so many people on such a special night.”
Barcelona, who also earlier secured their passage with games to spare, stretched their perfect Top 16 record to 11 wins after 16 points from Slovenia forward Bostjan Nachbar helped them to a 77-61 victory at fellow Spaniards Unicaja Malaga.
The tussle for two more berths behind Barca and Milano in Group E looks set to go down to the wire as third-placed Panathinaikos (6-5) have the edge over Unicaja, Olympiakos and Fenerbahce, who all have five wins and six defeats.
Four teams from each of the two Top 16 sections will qualify for the best-of-five quarter-final playoff series. The play-off winners will then advance to the Final Four.
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