Maccabi Tel Aviv can take a significant step towards locking up first place in
Euroleague regular season Group B on Thursday night when it hosts Unicaja Malaga
at Nokia Arena.
Maccabi can already qualify for the Top 16 with a win on
Thursday, as a sixth straight victory will guarantee its place among the group’s
best four teams at the end of the 10- week regular season.
The first of
those victories came at Malaga where Maccabi won its Euroleague road opener for
the first time since 2004, which was also the last season it lifted the
Euroleague title. Maccabi opened a double- digit margin (47-36) after an
impressive first half in Malaga and survived a comeback to clinch an 85-80 win
thanks to a 10-0 fourth-quarter run.
Malaga bounced back to record four
consecutive wins and Maccabi coach David Blatt believes his team will have to be
at its best to get the better of the Spaniards once more on Thursday.
played superbly to win in Malaga and we will have to repeat that to win on
Thursday,” Blatt said.
“This is a game which can determine many things
for us as we have a chance to already secure our progress and close in on
finishing in first.”
Malaga leads the Euroleague through five games with
36.6 rebounds per game, and has four players who are averaging more than 10
points per contest, led by Earl Calloway (14.6 ppg), who scored a Euroleague
career-high 25 points in the loss to Maccabi.
“Malaga has many weapons
and a deep and versatile roster,” Blatt added.
“This will be a very
Maccabi’s biggest success in Malaga was holding
big-men James Gist, Fran Vazquez, Kosta Perovic and Luka Zoric to a combined
nine points, but they have since averaged 26 points per game and give the
visitors a clear size advantage under the baskets.
“I think that Maccabi
has a good team but it’s still a bit early to know if it’s better than other
European teams,” said Malaga’s coach Jasmin Repesa.
“They are playing
well and are in good shape but this is still the start of the season.
lost the first game against them in Malaga as we had too many turnovers in the
“We have to control the rhythm of the game, be smart, try
to avoid turnovers and try to have a flowing offense. That will help us win the
Devin Smith missed the game in Malaga through injury, but scored a
career-high 20 points in Maccabi’s tight win at Alba Berlin last week and is
expecting a stern test on Thursday.
“Malaga isn’t the same team we faced
five weeks ago,” Smith said. “They have gelled as a team and have put together a
decent run of wins.
“Coach has prepared us well for the game and now it
is all up to us.”