Coming off the team's first EuroLeague Final Four appearance in nearly two decades and with Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius and much of that roster back, there were plenty of reasons for optimism among the Zalgiris Kaunas faithful coming into the season.
The Lithuanian champs opened the season at home where they lost to KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz to begin a seven-game stretch where they alternated wins and losses. Amazingly, Zalgiris won its first three road games – including marquee victories at Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, but lost its first five games at home.
A three-game slide between Rounds 7 and 9 dropped the club to 3-6 and 10th place. Zalgiris notched its first home win in Round 10 over AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan and bested Olympiacos Piraeus the next week to start a run of four wins from five games, but then proceeded to lose four in a row to fall to 13th place with a 7-11 mark.
A home win over Panathinaikos in Round 19 gave Zalgiris a reason to believe, however, three more losses in a row left Zalgiris with only the slimmest of hopes to reach the playoffs. And then something clicked...
Brandon Davies earned MVP honors for Round 23 with a dominant showing against Buducnost VOLI Podgorica. Zalgiris took care of business against Herbalife Gran Canaria in Round 25 before entering a string of games against teams in the playoff hunt. Marius Grigonis starred in a narrow victory over FC Bayern Munich. Leo Westermann led five Zalgiris scorers in double figures in a road win at Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv.
Even after dismantling Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul for its fourth straight win, Zalgiris was on the outside of the playoff zone looking in and not in control of its own destiny. Nonetheless, the team went to Greece and recorded a come-from-behind victory over Olympiacos. A Round 30 showdown at Real Madrid gave Zalgiris a chance to show what it was made of. Davies was MVP with a big double-double as the team won 86-93 and then discovered that thanks to other results, it had clinched a playoff berth.
By advancing, Zalgiris will be making back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time under the current playoff format. The opponent is Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, which is the team that stopped Zalgiris's Cinderella run last season at the semifinals of the Final Four. Can Zalgiris get past the Turkish champs this time?