As last season's runner-up and with most of the same roster back, Anadolu Efes Istanbul automatically enters this one as a title contender. Every team will want to show what it can do against Efes, which will help bring added excitement to all games. Here are five, in particular, to keep your eye on.
Round 1: We meet again
To complete its remarkable worst-to-second story last season, Efes had to go through one team more than any other: FC Barcelona. A 92-80 home win over Barcelona in Round 25 of the regular season basically assured Efes of home-court advantage in the playoffs. Lo and behold, that playoffs opponent was Barcelona, and Efes needed that fifth game at home, an 80-71 victory, to break through to the Final Four for the first time in more than 15 years. Their seven games last season had just about everything: thrillers, big comebacks, record-breaking performances and blowouts. This season Barcelona is nothing short of loaded in all positions, while Efes is out to prove that it plans to stay among the EuroLeague's elite. Their rematch, in the season's very first round, should be electric.
Round 9: Old adversaries
Although they have not met in more than 15 years, Efes and LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne had a nice little rivalry going at the end of last century. Asvel beat Efes in Istanbul in the third and final game of a quarterfinal series on its way to the 1997 Final Four, a first for the club. Efes returned the favor with a two-point win in another do-or-die third game to reach its first Final Four in 2000. Efes has played eight times on French soil in the EuroLeague this century, and won every single time. This will be the first time, however, that Efes goes there with two Frenchmen on the roster: Rodrigue Beaubois and Adrien Moerman, which should make for a fun return visit after 15 years for Efes.
Round 15: The rematch
Efes made club history by reaching the championship game last year only to fall short against CSKA Moscow. The Russian powerhouse not only got the better of Efes in that game, but also did so in their two regular season games last season and in every game dating back to 2013. Indeed, the title game made nine consecutive losses for Efes against CSKA. The reigning champs have revamped their backcourt with the departures of Cory Higgins, Nando De Colo and Sergio Rodriguez, but they will still be a force to reckon with, as always. Efes, meanwhile, brings back almost everyone from its runner-up team and will surely feel that this is the moment to end its negative streak against CSKA.
Round 24: More unfinished business
Efes has accomplished a lot in recent years. It has made the playoffs four of the last seven seasons. Last year, Efes shattered the club record with 26 wins in a single EuroLeague season. More importantly, Efes won its first playoffs series and reached the Final Four for the first time in more than 15 years. Then it made it to the championship game for the first time ever! One thing this team has not done since 2013, however, is beat Zalgiris Kaunas at home in Istanbul. That streak includes losses of 13, 14 and 16 points, respectively, in the last three years since Sarunas Jasikevicius took over at Zalgiris. This game gives Efes a chance to change that narrative.
Round 34: The Istanbul derby
Their local rivalry reached unprecedented heights last season, when Efes and Fenerbahce met 13 times. Efes won eight of those clashes, which included their a semifinal showdown to reach the EuroLeague Championship Game. Efes also took their Turkish League final series 4-2 to lift its first domestic league title in a decade. Now, Efes wants to continue the trend. Fenerbahce holds 10-3 advantage in head-to-head EuroLeague games, but Efes has won two of the last three. Shane Larkin, Vasilije Micic, Adrian Moerman and Bryant Dunston will lead the hosts, while Kostas Sloukas, Nando De Colo, Jan Vesely and Derek Williams line up for the visitors. This Istanbul derby has turned into one of continent's best, and on the last day of the regular season, it could mean a lot for either or both teams.