Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Pierre Jackson (55) scored a team-high 18 points in the 94-81 victory over Efes Istanbul in Euroleague action in Turkey.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
One of the last places Maccabi Tel Aviv expected to win at when the Euroleague schedule was released at the start of the season was in Istanbul against reigning champion Fenerbahce.
But after suffering a heartbreaking home defeat to Khimki Moscow last Thursday and dropping out of the top eight in the standings, Maccabi is nearing desperation mode ahead of Tuesday’s visit to the defending champs.
Tel Aviv is in ninth place, tied with eightplaced Baskonia Vitoria at 13-13.
Maccabi plays just one of its final four regular season games at Yad Eliyahu Arena, against Panathinaikos on Thursday, before visiting Vitoria the following week and then completing the regular season at Valencia.
The game against Vitoria is setting up to be the decisive showdown for the eighth and final ticket to the playoffs. However, a win in Spain won’t be good enough for Maccabi if it is more than one game behind its rival when they play next Thursday.
Baskonia hosts Brose Bamberg (10-16) on Wednesday before visiting Barcelona (9-17) on Friday.
Maccabi has won three straight games against Fenerbahce, including 81-73 at Yad Eliyahu in December when Pierre Jackson and Norris Cole combined for 39 points.
However, Tel Aviv enters Tuesday’s contest still reeling not just from the defeat to Khimki, but also from the BSL loss to Hapoel Holon on Saturday.
Since the start of 2018, Fenerbahce has won nine of 11 Euroleague games to move up to third place with an 18-8 record, with its defeats coming at second-place Olympiacos and last week against leader CSKA Moscow.
“I don’t think it is crucial but it is very important,” said Maccabi coach Neven Spahija of Tuesday’s encounter. “I said before the Khimki game that it is like a playoff game and to lose at home is very difficult to make up for. Now we are going to probably the most difficult opponent we could face at the moment. It is going to be difficult, but we are ready and will try.
“This situation can be fixed only by winning,” added the Croatian.
“But there are no magic words and preparing for a game with one practice session doesn’t work.”
Maccabi is tied for third in the league with an average of 82.2 points per game, but will likely struggle to reach that mark on Tuesday against Fenerbahce, which boasts the top-ranked defense, allowing just 75.3 points per game. Tel Aviv’s biggest problem has been on the defensive end, with the yellow-and-blue allowing the second most points in the competition (84.5 ppg).
“It is obviously a very challenging game and it is a big game and we have to come with a lot of focus and energy,” said Maccabi captain John DiBartolomeo. “We have proven during the year that when we play our best we can play with any team and that is what we have to do.”