Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Joe Alexander..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Guy Goodes is not one for hyperbole, but even he labeled Thursday’s Euroleague Top 16 showdown against Zalgiris Kaunas at Yad Eliyahu Arena as a do-or-die encounter.
Maccabi will remain in the top four in Group E regardless of Thursday’s and Friday’s results, but with road games at Real Madrid and Alba Berlin still to come in its final three Top 16 contests, Goodes knows a defeat on Thursday could seriously complicate the yellow-and-blue’s situation.
Tel Aviv has lost three of its past four Euroleague encounters to fall to 6-4, dropping a game behind Barcelona in the battle for second place and home-court advantage in the quarterfinal playoffs.
Goodes has already conceded defeat in the fight for a top-two finish and warned his team could be in real trouble should it fail to break out of its recent slump against Zalgiris.
“We all understand the importance of this game. For us it is a do-or-die game,” said Goodes on Wednesday. “We have to win in order to advance to the last eight.
It is in our hands. Our opponent is in good form after beating Panathinaikos so we need to be sharp and determined. This is a game we have to take.”
Kaunas improved to 4-6 last week with a 76-70 victory over Panathinaikos in Lithuania, but has won only one of five road games in the Top 16.
James Anderson is the vocal point of Zalgiris’s offence, averaging a team-high 14.3 points per game in the Euroleague while also grabbing 5.1 rebounds.
“Maccabi has a good roster with many options in the offense,” said Kaunas coach Gintaras Krapikas. “We have to play good as a team with good concentration, because it will not be easy on the road.”
Kaunas assistant coach Sarunas Jasikevicius is certain to receive a warm welcome when he returns to his old hunting ground.
Jasikevicius was named as a Euroleague Basketball Legend last month after a 16-year professional career.
His four Euroleague titles are the second-most since 1980. He is the only player ever to become club champion of Europe with three different teams or to threepeat with more than one team.
His first title came with Barcelona in 2003 before helping Maccabi to back-to-back cups in 2004 and 2005, while also being named as the MVP of the Final Four in the latter. Jasikevicius returned to the winner’s circle in 2009 with Panathinaikos for his fourth and last Four Final victory.
Goodes downplayed the importance of Saras’s return and is far more concerned with his team’s level of execution. The Maccabi coach will be hoping new forward Joe Alexander can build on his display against Barcelona and continue to carve out a greater role for himself.
Alexander took his time to settle in Tel Aviv, but recorded season-highs in points (16) and minutes (28) last week.
“This will be a challenging game like every other Euroleague contest and if we don’t show up with the right energy we will be in trouble,” said Alexander. “We must ensure we don’t have any defensive lapses because then matters could take a turn for the worse. Zalgiris still has an opportunity to reach the last eight and we can’t afford not to take them seriously.”
While its continental campaign has been derailed over recent weeks, Maccabi has won 17 straight BSL games and star forward Devin Smith is hoping Sunday’s easy victory over Hapoel Eilat will prove to be a sign of things to come.
“We needed to get back on track to defending the way we have been in the past and we did that,” said Smith. “The Euroleague games are usually affected by the way we play in the domestic league and hopefully we can build on that.”