Despite the setback against Real Madrid in its last Euroleague game, Maccabi Tel Aviv is as confident as ever entering Thursday’s Top 16 encounter against Bayern Munich at Nokia Arena.
Maccabi fell to 4-1 in Group F after dropping to a 74-68 defeat in Madrid two weeks ago.
That loss snapped a 17-game winning streak across all competitions, but the yellow-andblue drew plenty of optimism from giving what is considered to be the best team in Europe a run for its money until the final buzzer.
Maccabi has also since made it 20 wins in its past 21 games, claiming the State Cup last week before thrashing Hapoel Tel Aviv for its ninth straight victory in local league action on Sunday.
“We recorded three very impressive wins over the past seven days,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt after his team’s 90-58 victory in the derby.
“We wanted to show that we weren’t dropping a gear after winning the cup and we played superbly.”
Bayern has lost three straight Euroleague games, falling to 2-3 after winning its first two Top 16 encounters.
The Germans, who are guided by veteran Serbian coach Svetislav Pesic, nevertheless have the weapons to make life uncomfortable for Maccabi.
Munich is the top rebounding team in the Euroleague, averaging 39.5 boards per game, and has got a wide selection of big men of the likes of John Bryant, Deon Thompson and Yassin Idbihi.
Maccabi, on the other hand, will have to once more rely heavily on Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Alex Tyus under the baskets in the absence of the injured Shawn James.
Guard Malcolm Delaney is Munich’s only player to average double figures (15.2 points per game) in the Top 16 and Thompson, who is the team’s second-highest scorer with 9.0 points per game, has no illusions regarding the magnitude of the task the Germans face on Thursday.
“We know that we are the underdog, but we love to play this role and want to prove people wrong,” he said. “We have to play high-pressure defense to take Maccabi out of their set-play and slow down their pick-and-roll offense. At the same time we need to get easy points out of our own transition. It will certainly be an intense game.”
Bayern coach Pesic is hoping for a positive performance by his team, regardless of the eventual outcome.
“Maccabi is a club with a great Euroleague history. It will not be easy to compete against them on their home court,” he said. “The audience in Tel Aviv is crazy in a very positive way and we are looking forward to playing in front of this crowd.
Maccabi’s last few games have shown how strong this team is.
“We have to give our best not only to win this game. We have to give our best, because this will be one of those games which is going to be important for our further improvement as a team.”
Since late January, when James was ruled out for at least three months and possibly until the end of the season, Maccabi has been searching for an additional big-man and it seems it has now found one in Andrija Zizic.
The 34-year-old Croatian began the season in Cibona Zagreb before moving on to Astana in Kazakhstan just last month.
Zizic, who played for Barcelona, Olympiacos and Panathinaikos in the past, was recruited in recent days by Tel Aviv’s Croatian team manager Nikola Vujcic and Maccabi completed his signing late Wednesday night, although he won’t be able to play in the Euroleague until February 27.
“The key for us against Bayern is to control the defensive rebound,” said Maccabi forward David Blu, who led the team with 22 points in last week’s cup final, but has yet to finish a Top 16 game in double figures. “Bayern is the best offensive rebounding team in the competition. This is a big game for us and we have to be focused.”