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Mac TA in desperation mode as it hosts Barca
By ALLON SINAI
02/14/2013
Yellow-and-blue needs to pull off upset of group leader to get back into Top 16 contention.
 
The calculations are complicated, but the conclusion is clear-cut.

Should Maccabi Tel Aviv fail to defeat Barcelona in Top 16 action at Nokia Arena on Thursday night it can forget about progressing to the Euroleague quarterfinals.

Maccabi will only be playing the seventh of its 14 Top 16 games on Thursday. However, a loss to Barca will be its third home defeat in Group F and will see it fall to a 2-5 record from which it will have no realistic hope of recovering to finish among the group’s top four teams and advance to the last eight.

The Spaniards currently lead the group with a 5-1 record, winning their past four games, and have lost just two of 16 Euroleague contests all season.

Maccabi will also need to overcome recent history if it’s to beat Barca. Since the 2008/09 season, Maccabi and Barcelona have played six times in the Euroleague, all in the Top 16. Barcelona has won all six, including in Tel Aviv in each of the past two seasons.

“This game is critical,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt on Wednesday. “I don’t know the exact calculations, but we are treating this game as a must-win situation. Barcelona has hardly lost any games recently, but our showdowns with them are usually tight.”

Since their last Euroleague games, both Maccabi and Barca have won their local State Cups. Tel Aviv overcome a tough challenge in the semifinals versus Maccabi Ashdod and against Maccabi Haifa in the final to lift the trophy for a 40th time, while Barcelona edged Real Madrid in double-overtime in the quarterfinals last Thursday before comfortably beating both Caja Laboral Vitoria and Valencia to win the cup.

“We know how strong our opponent is,” Blatt said.

“This team is similar to the one we met in the past two seasons. They made some changes, but the new players are probably even better than the ones they replaced.”

Maccabi will still be without the injured Lior Eliyahu on Thursday, leaving Blatt with an especially depleted front-court following the release of Malcolm Thomas.

Centers Shawn James and Darko Planinic and power forward Nik Caner-Medley are the only big men left in the Maccabi rotation and face a particularly deep Barca team.

Center Ante Tomic (10.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG) is playing the best basketball of his career this season, while Nate Jawai (7.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and three-time All-Euroleague forward Erazem Lorbek (9.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG) pose difficult yet different challenges to Maccabi and especially James, who has almost single-handedly carried his team in the paint in recent weeks.

“I think that if we play to potential we can win this game,” James said. “We know how good Barca is, but they are humans like us and we can beat them.”
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