Maccabi Tel Aviv 311.
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will need to show a dramatic improvement if it's to have any chance of challenging Montepaschi Siena in its Euroleague Group F opener on Thursday, not to mention defeating the Italian champion on the road.
Pini Gershon's team has struggled desperately in continental action this season, and its poor play caught up with it in the BSL on Sunday where Maccabi lost to Barak Netanya after double-overtime, suffering its first local defeat after a 10-0 start to the season.
Gershon hasn't hidden his disappointment with his team's recent performances, but the Tel Aviv management seems to have already conceded nothing will come out of this Euroleague season.
The club has chosen not to replace Polish center Maciej Lampe for the time being and has also asked its playing and coaching staff to cut five percent of their salaries to help and ease the financial burden.
Nevertheless, Gershon will be hoping his side is somehow capable of turning matters around, starting on Thursday.
"Maccabi has never lost to Montepaschi and we don't want to start a new tradition, but we also know it's going to be anything but easy," said Gershon, speaking of the fact that Tel Aviv has won all nine of its past meetings with the Italians.
"Siena is running with most of their players for several years now and not many teams in the Euroleague are like that. Very few teams leave the arena in Siena with a win."
Maccabi ended regular season Group C in third position after losing three of its final four games, including a humbling defeat at Maroussi BC two weeks ago.
Tel Aviv has not displayed any signs of progress since, and Gershon is praying that perhaps the league loss to Netanya will turn out to have a positive effect on his team.
"I hope the loss we suffered in the Israeli league last week will act as a wake-up call," he said. "So far this season, in most of our difficult moments like the games in Vitoria and Moscow, we stayed together and fought back. We showed great character that we'll need to bring to this game as well."
Siena has been the dominant force in Italy in recent seasons, winning the last three championships and beginning the current campaign with a 15-0 record.
Montepaschi has also impressed in the Euroleague, finishing second in Group A behind the undefeated Barcelona, with an 8-2 record.
Perhaps the biggest strength of Simone Pianigiani's team is that it has held on to the same core of players for several seasons.
Siena still has seven players on its roster who were part of the team that lost to Maccabi in the 2008 Final Four semifinal, with Tel Aviv holding on to just two players - captain Derrick Sharp and forward David Bluthenthal, although Bluthenthal left for a season.
"We're enthusiastic to start the Top 16 at home, and we know perfectly well that we have to start on the right foot," Pianigiani said.
"It's very important in a short competition like the Top 16 to remain unbeaten at home, but we also know that Maccabi is a great team, which is used to playing this kind of game."
Playmaker Terrell Mcintyre (12.2 ppg, 5.4 apg), big-man scorer Ksistof Lavrinovic (15.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and outstanding defender Romain Sato (13.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg) are probably Siena's most important players and will need to be stopped if Maccabi intends to win.
"We know it will be a very tough game against a team playing very fast basketball," Lavrinovic said.
"We're working very hard to get this win because it's very important to win all the home games."
Andrew Wisniewski was perhaps the only ray of light for Maccabi in Netanya, leading the team with 26 points. The point-guard is averaging 10 points and 3.6 assists in the Euroleague and is hopeful Tel Aviv can record a surprise victory on Thursday.
"We have to try and put things together and take it from there to the next games," he said. "I'm optimistic. We've done some good things, we've shown signs. We just need to be more consistent and put things together."