If you just saw how they started and ended the regular season – with twin defeats against the same non-playoff team, Unicaja Malaga – you might wonder about Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul’s ability to defend its first Turkish Airlines EuroLeague title.
But no one doubts that ability, even for a nanosecond, because only a buzzer-beater loss to CSKA Moscow at home kept Fenerbahce from matching the best record over the 28 games between the regular season’s opener and finale.
That sudden loss was offset by an early highlight of Fenerbahce’s, when Nicolo Melli’s tip-in at the buzzer let Fenerbahce beat CSKA in Moscow. That Round 8 victory launched a four-game winning streak that ended with a 69-83 win that avenged a disastrous 34-point loss a year earlier – the biggest in the team’s five-season Zeljko Obradovic era – at the home of Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz, which is now Fenerbahce’s playoffs opponent.
A subsequent home win against Baskonia sparked a five-game run of success – Fenerbahce’s longest of the season – coinciding with the start of the new year.
This year’s biggest defeat for the champs, 95-70 at the home of Fenerbahce’s championship game victim last spring, Olympiacos Piraeus, was the exception to a rule of narrow losses. Five of Fenerbahce’s nine defeats were by 1 or 2 points, with a sixth coming in overtime.
The loss in Piraeus on February 1 was also the team’s last one away from home. Fenerbahce reeled off four more road wins – of 11 total – that include back-to-back ambushes against playoff qualifiers Real Madrid and Zalgiris, avenging earlier defeats.
The victory over Zalgiris, on Obradovic’s birthday, also clinched Fenerbahce’s playoffs spot with five rounds left, which was soon followed by home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Two key contributors to Fenerbahce’s title-winning run last season – Nikola Kalinic and Ali Muhammed – were injured for big chunks early in this one, but now the team is expected to be at full strength when it matters most.
With a 9-0 record over three seasons in the playoffs, including last year’s historic 3-0 sweep without home-court advantage, Fenerbahce at full strength is the very definition of a favorite to reach its fourth consecutive Final Four.