Despite Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 12-game winning streak over all competitions and perfect 2-0 start to the Euroleague Top 16, coach David Blatt refused to brand his team as the favorite for Thursday’s encounter at winless Zalgiris Kaunas.
Maccabi struggled to an 88-85 BSL win at lowly Maccabi Ashdod on Monday, but it has i impressed in the Top 16 so far.
the yellow-and-blue beat Galatasaray in Turkey in its opener before overcoming Lokomotiv Kuban 85-75 last week for its sixth straight Euroleague triumph and 10th win from its past 11 continental contests.
Zalgiris could only manage a 5-5 record in the regular season and enters Thursday’s showdown at 0-2 in Group F after losing to Bayern Munich by 18 points at home and falling to CSKA Moscow in Russia by 15 points.
Kaunas has got just one American player on its roster, former Hapoel Afula guard Justin Dentmon, who is the team’s leading scorer and only player to average double figures, registering 16.8 points per game.
Zalgiris’s roster includes familiar Lithuanian names of the likes of Paulius Jankunas, Robertas Javtokas and Ksistof Lavrinovic, with former Maccabi star Sarunas Jasikevicius by far the most illustrious player on the team. However, much like many of his teammates, the 37-year-old guard is well past his peak, averaging 6.7 points in 17 minutes per game this season.
Nevertheless, Blatt does not believe Kaunas will be the underdog on Thursday.
“They had a 4-1 record at home in the regular season and that’s a fact,” said Blatt. “They have some players coming back from injury and this is a dangerous team. We cannot consider ourselves the favorites.”
After scoring 22 points in 15 minutes to lead Maccabi to the victory over Kuban a day after being ruled out for two weeks with an ankle sprain, Sofoklis Schortsanitis will definitely miss Thursday’s game. The Greek center didn’t even travel with the team to Lithuania after his ankle swelled up, with guard Ricky Hickman also a doubt for the game with a shoulder injury.
“Injuries are part of every season, but we need to focus on winning and not on the players we are missing,” said Blatt.
“Even though people don’t want to believe us, Sofo wasn’t supposed to play last week either. He did something special and it may end up costing us.”