Maccabi Tel Aviv could be without Yogev Ohayon and Alex Tyus on Thursday, but is still confident of returning to winning ways in the Euroleague Top 16 when it hosts Zalgiris Kaunas at Nokia Arena.
Ohayon was fitted with special glasses to protect his eye after he suffered retinal damage two weeks ago, but remains a doubt to suit up againt Zalgiris after missing Monday’s BSL win over Barak Netanya through illness.
Tyus also sat out Monday’s game due to an ankle injury that has been hampering him for several weeks.
The center has missed three of the side’s past four BSL games and has been largely ineffective in the Euroleague over recent weeks, averaging 2.0 points and 1.0 rebounds in less than 11 minutes per game over the past four continental contests.
Maccabi has lost twice over that stretch, dropping to its heaviest defeat in Europe since 1976 when losing to CSKA Moscow by 35 points three weeks ago before falling to a frustrating 78-76 setback at Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia last week.
The yellow-and-blue also lost at Real Madrid at the end of January and only luckily escaped with a tight victory over Bayern Munich at Nokia last month, meaning it has only won two of its past five Euroleague games, and only one of them convincingly, thrashing Galatasaray 97-81.
However, Tel Aviv has eked out home wins even when the going has gotten tough this season and enters Thursday’s contest with a six-game home winning streak in the Euroleague, triumphing in eight of nine encounters at Nokia this season.
“We are not in the best shape physically, but that is the way it has been all season,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt. “I can’t remember us having a full roster at any stage. I hope Yogev can complete a full training session and Alex is still out. We rested Devin Smith on Monday so that he would be ready for Thursday.
“This is a very important game and there will be no excuse if we fail to win.”
Maccabi can also draw encouragement from the fact it will be facing Group F’s basement bunch on Thursday.
Zalgiris has won just one of nine games in the Top 16 to date, losing all five of its road encounters.
The ageless Sarunas Jasikevicius, who helped Maccabi to back-to-back Euroleague titles in 2004-2005, will likely be making his final appearance at Nokia as an active player on Thursday.
Although the 38-year-old only plays a peripheral role for Kaunas, averaging 6.0 points and 3.2 assists in 17 minutes per game in the Top 16, he still can turn it on for short stints.
American playmaker Justin Dentmon is the team’s undoubted star, averaging 17.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds in the Top 16.
Dentmon had 21 points against Maccabi in Lithuania two months ago, but the yellow- and-blue nevertheless beat Kaunas 87-78.
“Every remaining game in the Top 16 is a must-win game,” said Maccabi’s Greek center Sofoklis Schortsanitis, who hopes to build on last week’s performance in Kuban where he scored 18 points in 18 minutes.
“We lost to Kuban despite playing a good game, but that can happen. Now we need to make sure we hold [on our] home court.”