Maccabi Tel Aviv looks to snap out of rut

Visit to last-place Istanbul may be exactly what yellow-and-blue needs to revive Euroleague hopes

March 7, 2018 23:45
3 minute read.
Pierre Jackson

Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Pierre Jackson (55) will be rested once again for tonight’s Euroleague game at Efes Istanbul after being held out of Sunday’s BSL loss to Ironi Ness Ziona due to fatigue.. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)

Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Efes Istanbul on Thursday night in the first of six Euroleague games over the next month that will effectively determine how the yellow-andblue’s season will be remembered.

Maccabi enters the final stretch of the Euroleague regular season in eighth place with a 12-12 record, dropping to .500 for the first time in almost two months following last week’s 93-73 defeat to CSKA Moscow.

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Tel Aviv has lost three of its past four Euroleague games, as well as three contests in a row over all competitions and seven of its last eight continental road games. But Neven Spahija’s players know they will not have a better opportunity to get back on track, with Efes in last place in the standings at 6-18.

Efes has lost six of its last seven games, with all but one of its defeats coming by double-digits. However, it handed Maccabi one of its heaviest losses of the season back in November, winning 92-72 at Yad Eliyahu Arena.

Four of Tel Aviv’s final six regular season games will be on the road, and with a visit to reigning champion Fenerbahce in Istanbul still to come, as well as two road games in Spain at Baskonia Vitoria and Valencia to cap the campaign, Maccabi can scarcely afford a loss to Efes, even if it beats Khimki Moscow and Panathinaikos in its remaining home games.

Maccabi has a one-game lead over Vitoria in ninth place, with Malaga and Red Star Belgrade a further game back.

The yellow-and-blue has had a real difficulty even keeping road games close over recent months, with its last seven losses coming by an average 17.3 points, falling by at least 12 points in each game.

Efes has lost any hope of reaching the playoffs, but for its forward Sonny Weems Thursday’s showdown could hardly be more important.

Weems arrived at Maccabi last season with huge expectations and was supposed to be the star of Erez Edelstein’s side.

His short stay couldn’t have been more disappointing though, with Weems being cut mid-season after failing to complete a drug test on the back of the team’s disastrous start to the campaign.

Weems was the highest paid player on Maccabi’s roster, but his contribution both on and off the court was bitterly underwhelming.

He averaged 11.6 points per game in the Euroleague and was often blamed for the acrimonious atmosphere in the yellow-and-blue dressing room.

By leaving the anti-doping test without permission, Weems gave Maccabi’s management the opportunity it was waiting for to cut its losses.

The test, implemented by the Anti-Doping Committee of Israel, was ordered and paid for by Maccabi and was not one of the standard tests given after Euroleague games, or arranged by FIBA and the Israel Basketball Association.

Weems vehemently denied any wrongdoing, explaining that the drug inspector was at fault.

The Anti-Doping Committee of Israel nevertheless handed Weems a four-year ban, but it isn’t being upheld by either the Euroleague or FIBA, allowing Efes to sign him.

Weems had 19 points and six rebounds in his debut last week, a 77-64 loss to Olimpia Milano.

Spahija has a full roster at his disposal, but he will mainly be hoping it can play as a cohesive unit after the recent disappointing results. The pressure at the club is clearly building, with Maccabi making a rare announcement regarding its roster on Tuesday night.

“Coach Spahija wishes to clarify he never asked the club’s management to part ways with any one of the players,” the first point in the statement read.

“Regarding reinforcing the roster: All the factors that were taken into consideration were strictly professional... In addition reinforcing the roster would have forced the club to rest three foreign players in the Israeli domestic league, but above all the main reason for not adding another player to the roster is the fact that the coaching staff has complete faith in the roster... The club’s budget was never brought up nor was it discussed.”

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