Last season, the eighth and final EuroLeague playoff spot seemed to be just as coveted as the top seed and this season is no different.
Discounting Panathinaikos (seventh), Khimki (sixth) and Real Madrid (fifth) who each have 14-10 records as we head into the final six rounds of the regular season, there are four teams in a cluster that each have a great opportunity of making the post-season.
One of those teams is Crvena Zvezda who currently lies in 11th, which might seem like a way off the eighth spot but they are actually locked in with a 10-14 mark in a tie with last season’s EuroCup winners Unicaja Malaga and Baskonia one win ahead.
The Serbian powerhouses were in a similar position last season, and fell short on the final day, losing to Darussafaka Dogus as the latter claimed the final spot.
Bjelica only played four minutes on that fateful night in Istanbul, but regardless the memories are painful. The 33-year-old though is focused on putting it right this season, albeit in an unlikely situation to do so, especially given that the club has domestic duties to tend to as well.
“For us, it is very difficult because we will also have the ABA League Playoffs coming up soon, and it is also very important for us this season,” Bjelica said.
“We will play against good teams like Real Madrid, Panathinaikos, Barcelona, Valencia, CSKA and Fenerbahce, so we have to go game by game. Still, we have been playing these kinds of games all season. We will give our maximum in every game and hopefully reach our goal.”
That goal seemed very out of reach at the start of the season, with many predicting Crvena Zvezda near the bottom of the pile at the end of the campaign.
Bjelica was one of three returnees from last season as financial woe threatened to ruin the season. But the Belgrade side has worked tirelessly, captured veteran heads, headlined by EuroLeague champion and former Atlanta Hawks forward Pero Antic and they have an impressive ten wins to their name, something that deserves respect.
“Yes, I think we deserved each win and had some bad luck in some losses, too,” Bjelica explained.
“If you look back at the beginning of the season, we started it with just three players from last season – me, Dangubic and Lazic. It was a new roster, all others were additions. It is very difficult to make a competitive team in such a short time, and not only did we do it, but we’re also a Playoff candidate.
“From that side, we can be satisfied and really happy that our chances are still open. We can’t stop now, have to continue and look for more good results in the near future.”
And even though the deck is stacked against his side, Bjelica hopes to mark his ninth straight season in the EuroLeague with a spot in the Final Four, in his hometown of Belgrade.
“I am very happy because I played in the EuroLeague for nine years and since the beginning, I could only imagine that the Final Four would be in Belgrade,” he says.
“It is something big for me. Right now, we don’t have a big chance, but I still hope we can make it there with Crvena Zvezda. If not, for sure, I will watch the games live and enjoy.”
Quotes obtained by Javier Gancedo