It wasn’t just that Maccabi Tel Aviv was beaten by Montepaschi Siena in its
Euroleague Top 16 opener last week, it was decisively outplayed.
any defeat is damaging, the loss in Italy likely raised more concern than usual
among the highly-strung Maccabi management and especially head coach David
Perhaps particularly worrying was the fact that Maccabi couldn’t
compete with a Siena team viewed as no more than a dark horse in the battle for
a topfour finish in Group F and qualification for the quarterfinal
Considering all of the above, Tel Aviv already finds itself
with its back against the wall as it enters Thursday’s second Top 16 game
against Caja Laboral Vitoria at Nokia Arena.
With the Top 16 schedule
expanding to 14 games this season, it would be misleading to describe the
showdown with Vitoria as a must-win encounter.
However, a home defeat and
an 0-2 start for Maccabi before it has even faced what are considered to be the
group’s strongest sides in Barcelona, Olympiacos and Khimki Moscow could well
prove to be the beginning of the end for Tel Aviv.
“We are facing one of
the strongest teams in Europe,” Blatt said on Wednesday.
“We lost last
week and we really need this win at home. This is a critical game because if we
want to progress we need to find a way to win our home games.
think that pressure should play too much of a role,” he added. “If you prepare
well and are ready both physically and mentally than you might feel some
excitement, but pressure should be less of a factor.”
Euroleague powerhouse, Vitoria looked set to miss out on the Top 16 for a second
straight season after beginning its campaign with six defeats from its first
However, Caja would comeback from a 17-point deficit on the
way to a 64-62 win over Armani Milano to claim the first of three consecutive
victories to finish regular season Group C with a 4-6 record and progress to the
Vitoria, which replaced long-time coach Dusko Ivanovic with Zan
Tabak during its early-season slide, continued to gather momentum last week,
beating defending Euroleague champion Olympiacos 82-74 in its Top 16 opener,
extending its winning streak to four games and snapping the Greeks’ at
The Spaniards, who are in second place in local league play with a
12-3 record, were led to the win by Maciej Lampe, who scored a career-high 25
points, bettering his previous best by six points, which he set as a Maccabi
player in November 2009.
However, Lampe, who has averaged 16.5 points and
6.2 rebounds in Caja’s four-game winning streak, didn’t even complete the season
at Maccabi, being released in January 2010 after failing to live up to
“I think the important thing for us is to be patient,” said
Lampe, who is one of five Caja players to average more than nine points per
contest, leading a list that includes Andres Nocioni (10.9 PPG), Nemanja Bjelica
(10 PPG), Fernando San Emeterio (9.2 PPG) and Brad Oleson (9 PPG).
of times we tend to try to rush our offense and improvise. If we just keep
playing our game, we’ll have a good chance to win. Maccabi is aggressive on
defense, they get in the passing lanes and pressure full-court.
to also be prepared for a physical game since they’ve got a lot of good
athletes, and we need to make the least mistakes possible.”
Blatt will be
hoping new signing Darko Planinic and the underachieving Malcolm Thomas can help
with the crucial job of defending Lampe, which is set to be shouldered mainly by
The American center has been a revelation in his second
season with the yellow- and-blue.
James, who has been struggling with a
shoulder injury this week, got the campaign off to a slow start, but has
prospered since the midway point of the regular season, averaging 14 points on
83.3 percent shooting (30 of 36), as well as 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, over
his last five games.
“The players know when they haven’t played so well
and take responsibility for that,” Blatt said regarding last week’s performance
in Siena. “My responsibility is to know how to lift them.
thing is that we play with passion and desire. I like the way we have been
training ahead of this game and I think we will be ready.”
On TV: Maccabi
Tel Aviv vs Caja Laboral Vitoria (live on Channel 10 at 9:05 p.m.)