It is playoffs time in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and there is a lot going on – more than many basketball fans expected. Personally, I have learned not to take anything for granted because the EuroLeague – especially with the new format – has become one of the most unpredictable competitions not just in basketball, but in sports. Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul stormed into the playoffs with a great winning mentality, started both games in Madrid at full speed and scored a good-as-gold road win to steal Real Madrid's home-court advantage. The matchup between Brad Wanamaker and Sergio Llull is quickly becoming one of the best in playoff history. I am enjoying every bit of it! Fenerbahce Istanbul beat Panathinaikos Superfoods in Athens not once, but twice. You need a very clear leader to achieve such a thing – the Greens had won 11 consecutive home games in the EuroLeague before facing Fener – and Fenerbahce found such a leader in Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is playing the best basketball of his career, no question. He is doing everything right, even averaging 2 blocks per game. He combined for 48 points in the games in Athens without even going to the free throw line. CSKA Moscow had to battle hard to win two games against Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz with a final 10-0 run in Game 1 and late free throws by Kyle Hines in Game 2. I can't wait to watch these two teams at Fernando Buesa Arena; it will be wild. And of course, Olympiacos Piraeus and Anadolu Efes Istanbul are tied at 1-1. In Game 2, Jayson Granger made the difference in crunch time with a layup to tie the game and an assist to Alex Kirk for the game-winning bucket. Games 3 and 4 will be physical, intense and.... outstanding!
As for the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge, Game 2 was a bit better for me as I scored 177.4 points. That allowed me to go up a little bit to 6,602 overall with 4,321.1 points. It is not as good as I expected, but at least I keep getting better. My credit count is stuck at 623 or so. Since some series are tied at 1-1, it is guaranteed that the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge will have at least two more rounds. Unlimited trades are allowed throughout the playoffs and I will try to do my best in that sense.
As always when there are unlimited trades, I will go for the players who I believe they will play the best. At point guard, I am getting two players who play at home, Shane Larkin of Baskonia and Wanamaker. I am also keeping Ekpe Udoh and Bogdan Bogdanovic of Fenerbahce, because they have been just unstoppable until now. And I am keeping Chase Budinger of Baskonia because he comes off a very good game and I will not find anyone better at that price. Well, that is five out of 10. I am left with 295.55 credits and for five players.
The big question is whether to use Nando De Colo of CSKA or not. If he plays at this usual level, De Colo is a must, but Baskonia has managed to slow him down a bit. The truth is, De Colo is too good not to have, but I am going to gamble and not buy him. I will go with three options at center looking for solid players - Bryant Dunston of Efes; Ante Zizic of Darussafaka, who had an excellent Game 2 and personally, I think he was the key to Dacka's win; and Kyle Hines of CSKA Moscow. Without De Colo, I can afford two very good shooting guards / small forwards: Tyler Honeycutt of Efes and Chris Singleton of Panathinaikos.
So, that will be my lineup for Game 3. No Milos Teodosic, no Nando De Colo. It takes guts.
Shane Larkin, Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz - He is always solid at home and makes the most out of his deep shooting range and quickness. Game 3 should not be an exception.
Brad Wanamaker, Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul - Has claimed his status as one of the best point guards in Europe. Wanamaker will carry his team on his shoulders.
SHOOTING GUARDS AND SMALL FORWARDS
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Fenerbahce Istanbul - Let's face it, all good teams must have Bogdanovic right now. And all bad teams, too. He is ON FIRE!
Chris Singleton, Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens - Panathinaikos needs a win and its best players, like Singleton, must step up in tough times.
Tyler Honeycutt, Anadolu Efes Istanbul - Rebounds? Blocks? Steals? The occasional three-point shot? Honeycutt has the complete package!
Chase Budinger, Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz - When he hits his shots, Budinger can put up great numbers easily, and he plays at home this time, which is a plus.
POWER FORWARDS AND CENTERS
Ekpe Udoh, Fenerbahce Istanbul - He leads the EuroLeague in rebounds and blocks. That is enough to keep Udoh as long as he is available.
Bryant Dunston, Anadolu Efes Istanbul - Plays at home against his former team and is in great shape. Really, what is not to like about Dunston right now?
Ante Zizic, Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul - He is probably Darussafaka's difference-maker right now, which is great for a player his age. I expect him to stay solid.
Kyle Hines, CSKA Moscow - Playing some of the best basketball of his career, which is a lot. This man is a three-time EuroLeague champ, after all!
So, get ready for more great action! Games 3 and 4 will be decisive. Expect some terrific, exciting and thrilling basketball games, as our sport rarely gets better than this, not just the EuroLeague, but basketball in general. If some series makes it to Game 5, expect another column and if not, all end-of-season winners will be announced on our page shortly after Game 4. Good luck in the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge!