(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
After bouncing back from the shock Euroleague defeat to Alba Berlin by claiming the State Cup in emphatic fashion earlier this week, Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Panathinaikos in Top 16 action on Thursday night knowing it must win to maintain any realistic hope of a top-two finish in Group E.
The top four teams in the group will advance to the Euroleague quarterfinal playoffs, but the group winner and runner-up will crucially also have home-court advantage in the last eight.
Maccabi seemed to be ideally placed after beating both Barcelona and Real Madrid, but a surprise setback against Alba two weeks ago saw it fall to 5-2, one game behind group leader Madrid and tied for second place with Panathinaikos.
Barcelona is one game further back, and barring a major surprise, those will be the four teams to advance to the quarterfinals from Group E.
The battle for position, however, is set to rage on until the final buzzer of the Top 16, which is only at the halfway mark.
The loss to Alba is Maccabi’s only defeat of 2015 to date, but the yellow-and-blue has nevertheless struggled for form over the past month.
Guy Goodes’s team required overtime to beat Galatasaray in Turkey before erasing a 21-point deficit against Maccabi Haifa in BSL action. Following the loss to Berlin, Tel Aviv was also fortunate to come back from a fivepoint deficit against Haifa in the final minute of the State Cup semifinals last week before eking out a win in overtime.
However, Maccabi finally looked like its old self once more in the cup final against Hapoel Jerusalem, dominating the second half on the way to a 94-76 win and a sixth straight cup.
Maccabi did so without Sofoklis Schortsanitis, who is also a doubt for Thursday’s game due to an ankle injury, while Sylven Landesberg will definitely be out against Panathinaikos after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot that will keep him out of action for the next three to four weeks.
Landesberg has averaged 9.4 points and 2.8 rebounds over 19 minutes per game in the Euroleague.
Maccabi will be aiming to avenge its defeat to Panathinaikos in their Top 16 opener two months ago, and preferably by at least eight points in order to claim the tiebreaker, with the Greeks coming back from a double-digit third-quarter deficit to claim an 83-76 win in Athens.
“Our goal is to reach the playoffs, finishing in first or second place isn’t realistic at the moment,” insisted Goodes.
“We need to first make sure we even qualify. I knew the Top 16 would be tough and this is only the beginning.”