After winning 17 consecutive games in all competitions, Maccabi Tel Aviv will truly discover where it stands compared to Europe’s best when it comes up against Real Madrid in Euroleague action in Spain on Thursday night.
Maccabi leads Top 16 Group F with a 4-0 record and came back from 18 point down to defeat Bnei Herzliya in the BSL on Monday night to keep alive its winning streak, which began way back on December 5.
Tel Aviv claimed its biggest win of the Euroleague season last week, thrashing Partizan Belgrade 88-67 at Nokia Arena. After scoring more than 80 points just once in 10 regular season contests, Maccabi has netted between 85 and 90 points in its four convincing victories in the Top 16 to date, averaging 11 points more than in the regular season (87.5 ppg).
Maccabi has also improved its field-goal percentage and turned the ball over a competition- low 8.25 times per game, but it has done so against teams no where near as skilled and deep as Real Madrid.
Real only dropped to its first defeat of the season over all competitions last week, losing 85-71 to CSKA Moscow in Russia. The Spaniards crushed their opponents in the regular season by an average 23 points per game and is by far the best offensive team in the competition, averaging 88.6 points, six more than its nearest rival.
Madrid also allowed the least amount of points in the regular season (65.2 ppg) and bounced back from the defeat to CSKA by improving to 17-0 in the powerful Spanish league after beating Unicaja Malaga 88-67 on Sunday.
“This is certainly a difficult game against an excellent team – the best in the Euroleague,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt. “Madrid will be desperate to win after losing its first game of the season. They have all the elements you need in a winning team. They have quality, continuity, an excellent coach and experience."
“This is a big challenge, but we are in first place in the group and we want to play well and win.”
Real coach Pablo Laso has got four players who average double digits, but any of eight players on his deep roster can lead the team to a win on a given night.
Despite not starting, and playing just 21 minutes per game, Sergio Rodriguez leads the way with 14.1 points and 5.1 assists per game, with Nikola Mirotic (13.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg in 23 mpg), Rudy Fernandez (12.4 ppg, 3.9 apg and 3.8 rpg in 27 mpg) and Sergio Llull (10.1 ppg and 3.3 apg in 24 mpg) also all established stars in European basketball.
Ioannis Bourousis, Jaycee Carroll, Felipe Reyes and Tremmell Darden are also all key contributors, making Maccabi’s mission exceedingly difficult.
The yellow-and-blue will also be without center Shawn James, who was ruled out for at least three months with a ruptured disc in his back on Monday and may not even play again this season.
The injury-prone Sofoklis Schortsanitis and the relatively inexperienced Alex Tyus will have to step up in his absence, with the latter impressing in recent weeks, averaging 12.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in the Top 16 when taking out of account the game against Lokomotiv Kuban in which he played just 10 minutes.
“I feel for Shawn, he’s a great player who helped us a lot. I’m sure he will be very motivated to come back as soon as possible but in the meantime we will have to step up to make up for his absence,” said Tyus, who was on his way out of the club before James began to miss time due to his troublesome back two months ago.
“We need to make sure we are composed for 40 minutes against Real and if we do so I believe we can make it 18 wins in a row.”