Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Sofoklis Schortsanitis.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv aims to prove it can compete with Europe’s very best when it hosts Barcelona at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Euroleague Top 16 action on Thursday night.
Maccabi notched its first Top 16 win last week, beating Red Star Belgrade 78-67 at Yad Eliyahu to improve to 1-1 after losing its Group E opener at Panathinaikos.
Apart from the shock home defeat to Cedevita Zagreb in the regular season, the yellow-andblue has consistently overcome inferior opponents both home and away. However, it was comprehensively outplayed in two meetings against Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow and squandered a golden opportunity to record a significant win over Panathinaikos in Greece.
Together with CSKA and Real Madrid, Barcelona is a firm favorite to reach the Final Four, with one of the three also expected to go on and lift the cup.
Maccabi has yet to show this season that it is capable of beating the competition’s top sides and repeating as Euroleague champion. But it will be looking to change that in Thursday’s showdown with Barcelona.
Barca went 9-1 in the regular season, only losing to Fenerbahce Ulker by two points. The Catalans suffered a surprise defeat at Alba Berlin in their Top 16 opener, but bounced back with a win over Panathinaikos last week before hitting 20 three-pointers in a dramatic 114- 110 overtime win over Unicaja Malaga in local league action on Sunday.
Marcelinho Huertas led six players in double figures with 27 points, building on his recent excellent play in the Euroleague that has seen him average 21.8 points over the past four games.
Barcelona will be without injured star Juan Carlos Navarro once more, but will aim to dominate under the baskets with a frontcourt which includes Ante Tomic, Justin Doellman and Maciej Lampe.
“Barcelona were superb against Malaga and we will have to find a way to stop their offensive game,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes. “We will have to play defense the way we did against Red Star, but we will also have to score at the other end. We dropped an important game to start the Top 16 and every game is important now. I believe that with seven or eight wins we will finish in the top four in the group and advance to the quarterfinals, and that is our goal.”
Maccabi will be playing its 800th game in European competition on Thursday and can move to 500 wins with a victory.
“Our players, management and fans are excited about the possibility of reaching this milestone.
It reflects a long tradition of excellence and Maccabi Tel Aviv’s growing status as a premier global basketball hub,” said Maccabi GM Danny Federman.
“But the real focus is simply on winning this week’s game against Barcelona and continuing our march towards a championship repeat. Barcelona is a great team with a wonderful basketball tradition. It’s a very important game for us.”