By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
After completing the Regular Season at the first place of the standings with a 23 – 7 record, Real Madrid wants to make every drop of the sweat spilled in these 30 games count with a return to the Final Four. A rather different, more athletic and faster squad compared to last season, the 2015 champs look pretty much able to beat any team and under almost any given circumstances. They are packed with quality, own the home-court advantage and know that they are the heavy favorites in the series.
Darussafaka Dogus on the other hand is what you might call the “Playoffs Cinderella”. The players of the Turkish team wrote a new page in the history of the club by advancing to the Top 8 and while this is no small success on its own right, David Blatt’s guys carry enough ambition and hunger to aim far higher. Following a fair share of ups and downs in the regular season, they managed to clinch a playoff berth in the Round 30 “do or die” game vs Crvena Zvezda and finish with a 16 – 14 record. They have become battle-hardened by going through fire and water and that’s a weapon one cannot underestimate.
Key Match Up: Sergio Llull VS Brad Wanamaker
This playoff series will feature a match-up between two of the top 5 guards in Europe right now. Sergio Llull and Brad Wanamaker are the complete package, offense and defense-wise. They produce buckets themselves, initiate scoring for others in multiple ways (and not only when they register assists numbers), don’t allow their opponents to have it easy when they attack, and generally take care of their team’s well being to a vital degree.
They provide most of the fuel that runs their teams’ engines so what they’ll put on the floor during the series will play a decisive role on the final outcome.
Another element they share is that they are having their best season of their careers. Llull averages 16 points, 5.9 assists and 2 rebounds per game. Season MVP contender, while rightfully being considered as the most clutch player in Europe right now. As for Wanamaker, he’s also notched MVP numbers: 16.2 points, 4.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals taking his game to a completely new level this year with Dacka.
I know what you did in the Regular Season
Real Madrid and Darussafaka Dogus faced each other for the first time ever on the 12th Round of the Regular season in Istanbul. Dacka won 81 – 68 behind a sensational Brad Wanamaker (27 points) but Real Madrid had to cope without Sergio Llull and Anthony Randolph.
The latter were both present in the second-leg game in Madrid where the “Blancos” dominated 101 – 83. Llull finished that match with 26 points and 8 assists, “spitting” fire in a first quarter surge of 19 points and 5 (!) 3-pointers. David Blatt likes to use this performance as an example of how impossible it is to stop him when he is totally in the zone.
Prediction: Real Madrid in (Final) Four
Although Darussafaka Dogus has shown exceptional “Die Hard” abilities throughout the Regular Season, I can’t see how Real Madrid won’t win the series.
Setting aside the fact that they have lost only one game at home (by Baskonia) in the EuroLeague season so far or that they have a powerful and versatile roster that allows Pablo Laso precious flexibility and rotation, there’s also the experience factor. The vast majority of Dacka guys have never played a EuroLeague playoffs game before in their career, with the most well-travelled player being former Madridista Marcus Slaughter, who will be sidelined.
Meanwhile, there’s no man in the roster of Real that hasn’t gone through the playoffs trials, with most of them carrying rich and valuable quarterfinals experience. Knowledge not only of the special circumstances surrounding this type of matches, but also of how to emerge victorious from them.
A prediction based on the above notes, gives Real Madrid a 2 – 0 advantage after the games in Spain. Darussafaka Dogus players will definitely react, quite possibly well enough to win one game in Istanbul. However their opponents have the tools to answer swiftly and probably finish the series before returning home.