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Mac TA turns an eye to clinching group
By ALLON SINAI
12/06/2012
Maccabi currently leads Euroleague Group B with a 6-2 record, holding the tiebreaker over Unicaja Malaga.
 
After a tumultuous few days away from the court, Maccabi Tel Aviv will try to turn its focus back to business when it visits Prokom Gdynia of Poland on Thursday night.

Maccabi currently leads Euroleague Group B with a 6-2 record, holding the tiebreaker over Unicaja Malaga.

Tel Aviv snapped a two-game losing streak last week, returning to winning ways in the Euroleague with a 78-73 victory over Chalon-Sor-Saone. It climbed back to the top of the standings after Malaga was thrashed 91-72 at Montepaschi Siena.

Two wins in its remaining regular season encounters will see the yellow-and-blue enter the Top 16 as a group winner, with Maccabi having the possibility to wrap up first place with a game to spare should it triumph in Poland and both Malaga and Siena lose.

Maccabi is 5-0 all-time against Gdynia, winning by an average margin of 26.4 points, including a 93-62 blowout victory earlier this season.

Perhaps that is just as well, considering the distractions David Blatt’s men had to deal with in the build up to Thursday’s game.

All seemed to be well after Maccabi beat Hapoel Tel Aviv 91-72 in the first derby in over six years on Sunday.

However, the result of the showdown was soon forgotten after video footage showed Maccabi captain Guy Pnini calling Hapoel player Jonathan Skjoldebrand a Nazi, among other profanities.

The incident was captured during a trash-talk exchange and Maccabi announced on Monday night that it had suspended Pnini until further notice, stripped him of the captaincy and also fined him NIS 100,000.

Lior Eliyahu will replace Pnini as captain starting from Thursday and coach Blatt is hoping that the recent commotion will not have any bearing on the Prolom game.

“We have dealt with something unexpected over the last couple of days and I hope that we will be able to snap out of it,” Blatt said. “I hope we come back on Friday with big smiles across our faces, looking forward to wrapping up first place in the group next week.”

Despite facing the group’s bottom team, which has won just one of eight games so far, Blatt is doing his best to keep his players wary of Thursday’s encounter.

“We are exactly in the situation we wanted to be in thanks to Siena’s win over Malaga last week,” Blatt said. “Now we have the option of clinching first place by winning our remaining games.

“We now face what is in theory the weakest team in the group, but we must remember that they beat Alba Berlin at home and almost beat the Germans on the road last week.

“Prokom has nothing to lose, while we have everything to lose. We are not going to take this game lightly.”
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