Basketball plays a very important role in the Portuguese sporting culture. In a country where football is like a massive eucalyptus plant, draining fans and resources from everywhere else, basketball remains one of the few relevant sports, along with hockey, futsal, and handball.
The Portuguese Basketball Landscape
As is the case with most sports in Portugal, basketball is dominated by the three major clubs: Sport Lisboa e Benfica (27 wins), Futebol Clube do Porto (12 wins), and Sporting Clube de Portugal (9 wins), which is vital for the visibility of the sport. Current champions Sporting (also known as the Lions) did not have a basketball team for many years, before returning in 2019/2020 and winning the championship in 2020/2021, 39 years after their last triumph.
In the recent years, a fourth team has managed to rival with the three chronic contenders: União Desportiva Oliveirense. The team from Oliveira de Azeméis won the championship in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019, before the competition was suspended in 2019/2020 due to the pandemic.
Last year, Sporting beat Porto 3-2 in the big final, managing to edge the Dragons 86 to 85 in a nervous decider. The MVP of the final match was Travante Williams and the MVP of the finals was Micah Downs – the two key North-American forwards from Sporting.
The Portuguese first division, Liga Betclic, consists of a 12-team competition, with a first round where all teams play each other home and away. Following that, the top eight teams play a second round of home and away matches to establish the positions for the final playoff. The bottom four also play each other, to determine the other two playoff teams and the two teams that will be relegated to the second division.
Mid-Season Tensions Begin to Grow
The 2021/2022 season is currently approaching the mid-point of the first round and the scenario is as expected with the main teams winning most of their matches. The current league leaders are Benfica with 17 points. They have won eight and lost just one of their nine games so far this season. It is important to mention that the only loss of the Dragons was due to a no-show in matchday three against Ovarense, in consequence of a protest against the referee of that match. They’re not alone at the top: three teams all have 17 points. In fact, just two points separate the top six teams in the league currently.
— Basquetebol FPB (@fpbasquetebol) December 13, 2021
So far, the best player of the season has been Brandon Anderson, from Ovarense, leading the league in points (22.1 PPG) and ranking second in the assists, with 6.5 APG. The assist leader of the league is Francisco Amiel (6.8 APG) and the rebound leader is Julien Ducree (8.1 RPG), both from Lusitania – the team from Azores.
The overall level of the national championship has been rising, with several teams trying to close the gap to the usual contenders.
The playoff picture should include the Big Three in the top positions, with the remaining five being Oliveirense, CAB Madeira, Lusitania, Imortal, and Ovarense. The other four, Illiabum, Póvoa, Académica, and Vitória, should battle for survival in the topflight.
Sporting kept their main players for this season, adding important players to the roster, which possibly puts the Lions in the driving seat. However, Porto have shown that they can match their rivals in every department, losing last year’s final only by the smallest of margins. Sporting and Porto should be the favourites to reach the final, but given their form, Benfica will push them all the way.
Fighting on Two Fronts: Rivalry Continues in Europe
It’s worth mentioning this years’ European campaign of the Portuguese teams. After missing the qualification for the group stage of the Champions League, Sporting joined Porto and Benfica in the Europe Cup, the second tier of European basketball. In the first group stage, Porto were eliminated and the two rivals from Lisbon went through to the second group stage. Now, destiny has put them in the same group, along with the Polish side of Trefl Sopot and the Romanians of CSM Oradea, setting yet another cracking battle in the legendary quarrel between Lions and Eagles.
This season is setting up to be full of cracking duels between Sporting and Benfica, with both teams also confirmed for the final four of the Futsal Champions League.