Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Brian Randle.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Following the frustrating loss to Panathinaikos in its Euroleague Top 16 opener last week, Maccabi Tel Aviv can already scarcely afford anything but a win when it hosts Red Star Belgrade at Yad Eliyahu Arena on Thursday night.
Despite missing star forward Devin Smith, Maccabi led by as many as 14 points (32-18) in the second quarter in Athens and was still ahead by double- digits (64-54) late in the third frame.
However, it ran out of steam in the fourth period, ultimately losing 83-76 to Panathinaikos.
After also sitting out Saturday’s BSL game versus Hapoel Eilat due to an ankle sprain, Smith is set to return to the lineup on Thursday.
The loss in Greece snapped a 10-game winning streak over all competitions, but Maccabi got back on track, albeit by a slender margin, by edging Eilat 85-83 for its 15th victory from the last 17 contests.
Red Star also lost its Top 16 opener last week, falling to a 79-72 setback at home against Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid. Despite its 80-70 loss to Alba Berlin last week, Barcelona looks set to battle Real for first place in the group.
That leaves the remaining sides to fight for third and fourth places and the two additional quarterfinal berths.
Panathinaikos, Galatasaray and Berlin are considered to be Maccabi’s main rivals for those playoff tickets, but with 13 games still to play in Group E, the likes of Belgrade and Zalgiris Kaunas can not be discounted just yet.
“We continue with our tough schedule,” said Red Star coach Dejan Radonjic.
“This game presents an opportunity to enjoy ourselves against the champion of Europe. As always, Maccabi has a team which has the highest ambition. They have changed the roster a little, but have kept their most important players who achieved great results last season.
“We are the youngest Euroleague team and we are looking at the Top 16 as an opportunity for growth. We will prepare ourselves to be a decent opponent for Maccabi on their home court, with the hope of giving our best in order to spring a surprise.”
Red Star’s young roster is led by 2.21- meter center Boban Marjanovic.
The 26-year-old was the Euroleague regular season leader in average performance index rating (24.9 per game) and in rebounding (10.7 rpg).
He has scored in double figures in 11 of his last 12 Euroleague games and has seven double-doubles this season.
“A very tough game is ahead of us,” he said. “Their guards are very dangerous and they also have Sofoklis Schortsanitis, who is using his qualities the best way possible.
“Maccabi has the opportunity to play in different ways, with a strong center or with shorter players in that position.
Their defense is very good and it is going to present a challenge for us. I believe we have the capacity to upset them, but we must not forget that we are going to be the guests of the European champions.”
Maccabi coach Guy Goodes will be counting on Smith, Brian Randle and Jeremy Pargo to lead the way as always, but he will also be hoping Marquez Haynes can finally translate his improved form in the BSL to the European stage.
Haynes scored a season-high 27 points, including four three-pointers, in the win over Eilat, and has averaged 19.0 points and 3.5 triples over his past four BSL contests.
However, even with Maccabi shorthanded last week, Haynes could only manage nine points against Panathinaikos and is averaging just 6.8 points in 21 minutes par game in continental competition.
“I’m playing more aggressively recently, but there are some games that go better than others,” he said. “We must beat Red Star and after the game we experienced against Eilat I’m sure that we will be ready and will play with a lot more energy.”