Maccabi looks to climb in standings as Real Madrid visits

Maccabi has been far from impressive this season, losing Euroleague opener at Olimpia Milano before edging Partizan Belgrade at home.

November 3, 2011 06:29
3 minute read.
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Yogev Ohayon

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Yogev Ohayon 311. (photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv website)

Maccabi Tel Aviv will be looking to make a statement when it hosts Real Madrid at Nokia Arena in Euroleague action on Thursday night.

Maccabi has been far from impressive this season, losing its Euroleague opener at Olimpia Milano before edging Partizan Belgrade at home last week.

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However, a convincing win against Real’s star-studded roster, and Maccabi’s relative struggles will be quickly forgotten.

Tel Aviv has thus far looked nothing like the team that reached the Euroleague final last season, but coach David Blatt is confident it won’t be long before the yellow-and-blue dispels any doubts that it can challenge on the continental front yet again.

“We know what we need to do to reach the top levels, but it is of course all a question of time. We hope it takes as little time as possible,” Blatt said on Wednesday.

Real comes to Nokia with a 2-0 record in Group C, thrashing Charleroi in Belgium before beating Milano at home.

Madrid’s roster, which includes the likes of Sergio Llull, Jaycee Carroll, Felipe Reyes and Ante Tomic, was already strong before getting a significant boost due to the NBA lockout, with Dallas Mavericks forward Rudy Fernandez joining until the lockout ends and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Serge Ibaka signing a two-month deal.

“Real has strengthened its roster, and that comes after a season in which it reached the Final Four,” Blatt said. “They have brought in players in almost every position and that shows their ambition this season. But we also have plenty to offer, and this is going to be a great game in every aspect.”

The match-up between Ibaka and Sofoklis Schortsanitis will be one of the keys to the outcome of Thursday’s encounter, while Maccabi will have to find a solution for Fernandez, who has averaged 18 points in Real’s first two Euroleague games of the season.

“The team is moving in the right direction and showing many positive things,” Madrid coach Pablo Laso said.

“We face a great team in a very attractive and challenging game. We must pay attention to the ability of the Maccabi players in one-on-one situations and their inside game with very strong players like Schorsianitis, as well as versatile players like Blu and Eliyahu who can open the game.

“It is a court known for its great atmosphere and we all know how difficult it is to win on the road in a group as hard as ours. We won away from home in our first game, and to do it again and get to three victories would be a step forward to the Top 16.”

Lior Eliyahu, Maccabi’s leading scorer so far in the Euroleague with 15.5 points per game, will be one of the players Madrid targets on Thursday, but he is confident Tel Aviv has what it takes to beat the Spaniards at Nokia.

“I think we are the only team in Europe that has people stressing about the way it is playing after just one defeat,” Eliyahu said.

“I think we are playing well, but of course Real is a different level, and we are facing a very difficult Euroleague game. A win over Real will be very important in our group because we don’t want to find ourselves with two defeats at this stage of the season. It will also be a significant victory as it will be against a very big team, and hopefully we will be able to build on that.”

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