One of the pre-season favorites to again reach the Final Four with most of the core of the team back from the squad that posted the best record in the league a year ago, devastating news arrived even before the balls started bouncing when last season’s MVP and team leader Sergio Llull suffered a torn ACL that would see him miss most – if not all – of the season.
Coach Pablo Laso put all his confidence in Rising Star Trophy winner Luka Doncic and the young talent paid him back in spades. The team started the season with a 4-0 record as Doncic won a couple of weekly MVP honors and was named MVP of the Month for October.
However, before the end of that month, one of Madrid’s major offseason signings, center Ognjen Kuzmic, also fell victim to a torn ACL and would miss the rest of the season as well. The injury problems, which included missing Gustavo Ayon and Anthony Randolph for periods too, led Los Blancos to three straight losses. To address the trouble in the paint, Madrid brought in center Walter Tavares in November.
This latest addition proved crucial for the team, which had lost six of seven games to fall to a 5-6 record. Things turned around at that point and Madrid managed a seven-game winning streak that included important wins at Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul and Khimki Moscow Region and at home against FC Barcelona Lassa and Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, always led by Doncic, who dominated the performance index rating charts, with solid contribution at guard by playmaker Facundo Campazzo.
With a 12-6 record and starting to get some players back from injury, Madrid stumbled against CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos Piraeus, but a resounding 27-point win in El Clasico at Barcelona paired with straight wins against Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens and AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan finally put the team in the playoffs for good.
With a few rounds to go in the regular season, Coach Laso managed to recover some players from minor injuries and lead the team to a final stretch with a 5-1 record. Madrid ultimately posted a 19-11 record, which was tied for the third-best in the league, though it finished fifth after tiebreakers. Now Los Blancos head into their sixth straight playoff appearance – and its first-ever against Panathinaikos – for a ticket to the big show in Belgrade.