Maccabi Tel Aviv can’t afford a slip-up at Partizan Belgrade on Thursday night if it has any intention of securing homecourt advantage in the Euroleague quarterfinal playoffs.
Maccabi has yet to officially book its place in the last-eight of the competition, but it seems extremely unlikely it will fail to do so, with the yellow- and-blue having a threegame lead over fifth place in Top 16 Group F with just four games remaining.
A win in Belgrade will effectively clinch Tel Aviv’s berth in the quarters, but equally important, it will mean the team can leapfrog Real Madrid into second place when the sides meet at Nokia Arena next week.
Maccabi improved to a 7-3 record with last week’s comfortable 77-67 victory over Zalgiris Kaunas and currently trails Madrid by a single game, with Real hosting group-leader CS KA Moscow (9-1) on Thursday night.
Only the top two teams in the group will have homecourt advantage in the bestof- five quarterfinal playoffs.
Maccabi crushed Partizan 88-67 when the teams met in Tel Aviv two months ago, taking a 28-point (47-19) cushion into the break before cruising to one of its easiest wins of the season in the second half.
The Serbs have only won one game in the Euroleague since, beating Bayern Munich at home two weeks ago.
With just two victories from 10 contests, Partizan has essentially lost all hope of reaching the playoffs, but is aiming to add Maccabi’s scalp to that of CSKA after stunning the Russians at Pionir Arena in January.
Partizan has scored the fewest points (67.2 ppg) among all teams in the Top 16, but Maccabi will have to keep a close eye on new signing Sasha Pavlovic, who joined the team last month after 10 seasons in the NBA and has averaged 13.0 points in his three Euroleague games to date.
“This game against Partizan will be a big challenge, but we show up for every game and we believe we can win,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt, who apart from Shawn James will have a full roster at his disposal.
“Partizan today is not the same as the Partizan of six, seven weeks ago. Their injured players have come back and they have a very strong, tall, and athletic team that is still hungry. We understand that and respect that. Our team is in good shape, we know what we’re going to face, and we will be ready.”