Maccabi heads for Moscow on a roll

After being outplayed by Caja Laboral in opener, Tel Aviv looks for 3rd straight Euroleague win, 1st place in Group A.

November 11, 2010 09:10
3 minute read.
Maccabi Tel Aviv player Doron Perkins.

doron perkins_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Maccabi Tel Aviv can move into a commanding position in Euroleague Group A with a victory at BC Khimki Moscow in Russia on Thursday night.

After being outplayed by Caja Laboral Vitoria in its Euroleague opener on October 22, Maccabi rebounded with impressive double-figure victories over Zalgiris Kaunas (86-70) at Nokia Arena and against Partizan Belgrade (67-54) in Serbia last week.

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Another road win on Thursday would not only ensure the yellow-and-blue a share of first place in the group with a 3- 1 record, but would also leave it ideally placed to eventually clinch the group, with four of its six remaining games to take place at Nokia.

However, Khimki (2-1) also has its sights set on winning the group, especially after beating Vitoria 64-60 last week.

The Muscovites have invested heavily in recent years in the hope of becoming a big player in European basketball.

Khimki made the Eurocup title game two campaigns ago, and after reaching the Top 16 of the Euroleague last season, is hoping to go one better this time around.

“We’re expecting a tough away game.

Khimki is a very good team,” Maccabi coach David Blatt said on Wednesday.

“They may have qualified by way of the preliminary round, but they’re a team that was in the Euroleague last year and had a fairly successful season. From a staff and budget standpoint, they’re a team that should be very significant in the Euroleague again this season.”

However, Blatt believes Maccabi is perfectly capable of winning in Moscow and handing the locals their second home defeat in five days after Tzvika Sherf’s Spartak St. Petersburg beat Khimki in league play on Sunday.

“There isn’t a team in Europe today that isn’t vulnerable,” Blatt observed.

“Barcelona lost games this year in the Euroleague, Panathinaikos lost to Ljubljana and CSKA is currently in difficulties with an 0-3 record. I think that at this stage each of the teams has its weaknesses, and the question is whether we can use that to our advantage.”

Khimki’s undoubted star so far this season has been American Keith Langford.

The guard is averaging 18.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game and will be fit to play despite sitting out the fourth quarter of last week’s win over Vitoria with an ankle injury.

Equally dangerous will be Croatian sharpshooter Zoran Planinic (13.7 ppg), who joined Khimki from CSKA in the summer, while Benjamin Eze (9.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Kresimir Loncar (5.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg) will be Khimki’s main threats under the baskets.

“After last week’s big win against Caja Laboral, we are going to face another great European team,” Khimki coach Sergio Scariolo said. “We still need some of our players to recover physically. But we have the desire and commitment to compete. We will succeed only if we play our best defense and if we move the ball on offense.”

Eze’s biggest challenge on Thursday will be trying to defend big man Sofoklis Schortsanitis.

“Maccabi is a very good team, one of the leaders in our group and I’m sure the game will be tough,” he said. “We must be more concentrated than in previous games. We should play well in defense – it will be the key for a successful outcome. Especially Sofoklis Schortsanitis – he is a talented player and his teammates will search for him under the basket at the first opportunity.”

The key to Maccabi’s victories so far has been its defensive play, with Tel Aviv holding its opponents to 70 points or less in its last four games in all competitions.

The yellow-and-blue also leads the Euroleague in steals, forcing Zalgiris and Partizan to a combined 44 turnovers in its last two wins.

“We are facing a very very difficult game,” Maccabi forward Lior Eliyahu said. “I don’t think people appreciate how good Khimki really is. This game is very important to us because we are going through a good period and a win in Moscow will continue our positive momentum.”

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