The play-offs are the best time of the year in many sports, for fans and players alike. The best teams fight for the championship in close duels, there is a game almost every day, and in the best-case scenario, there is real euphoria. So far, there hasn’t been much evidence of this in the basketball Bundesliga. “It’s very strange,” says Alba Berlin’s coach Israel Gonzalez about his team’s schedule. “In the play-offs you actually play in quick succession, this year we played in the main round in quick succession – and now we don’t.”
Before the first semi-final in their own hall against the giants Ludwigsburg on Friday (7 p.m.), the Berliners had a week without a game. After the second semi-final on Sunday, the next longer break awaits before it continues in Ludwigsburg on Friday. Overall, the ball rested in the BBL for six days after the quarter-finals. For comparison: In the North American professional league NBA, there have only been five days without games since the start of the play-off in mid-April. The differences between the two leagues are of course large and a burden like in the NBA is not desirable from a health point of view, but at least from a marketing point of view the schedule design of the BBL is very suboptimal.
So far, the tension has stayed the same. Although four of the twelve play-off games went into overtime, the series all ended with a sweep. Alba, Ludwigsburg, Bayern Munich and Bonn all won their quarterfinals with 3-0 wins. You have to go back to the 1988/89 season to find such one-sided results – at that time, however, two wins were enough to advance.
However, Gonzalez is sure that the semifinals will be much closer than before. “I expect a very difficult series, much more difficult than against Bamberg,” says Alba’s coach. The Spaniard has great respect for Ludwigsburg, not only because the Berliners lost both main round games against the giants. “This is a club that has a system that is successful,” says Gonzalez. “In the last five years, they keep increasing.” Last season, Ludwigsburg finished the main round with the current Berlin Jaleen Smith as MVP in first place, but failed in the semifinals against Munich. In 2020, John Patrick’s team made it to the final in the bubble, but lost to Alba in an unusual two-leg format.
The Swabians are again strong in the current season. In the BBL it was only enough for fourth place, but the team made it to the Final Four of the Basketball Champions League. “They are well coached, have good players, they are probably the most physical team in the league,” says Gonzalez and predicts: “It will be a fight.” But that cannot be avoided anyway with John Patrick’s characteristic style. Ludwigsburg often plays with a very small formation, puts the opponent under pressure early on in the build-up game, forces turnover and uses this for quick points. “They make it very difficult for the opponent with their small ball because they play so hard that you still don’t have an advantage in the low post,” says Gonzalez.
However, the coach does not want to make any major adjustments. Alba has been looking after itself for years and in contrast to the games in the main round, for which there was no preparation time due to the many Euroleague trips, the Berliners are now very rested. The infection that weakened or disabled Luke Sikma, Louis Olinde, Maodo Lo and Malte Delow during the series against Bamberg seems to have passed. “Everyone is recovering and I hope they can play on Friday,” says Gonzalez. This also applies to Johannes Thiemann, who recently had to take a break due to knee problems. Only for Marcus Eriksson does the game come too early despite significant progress.
So the game-free week was not that bad for the slightly ailing Berliners. Gonzalez will probably no longer be a friend of the excessive schedule. “We played every two or three days throughout the season and trained accordingly,” says the Spaniard. “And in the decisive phase of the season we can’t use that.”