Yellow-and-blow hosts Kuban in battle for first place

December 5, 2013 02:02

Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Lokomotiv Kuban at Nokia Arena on Thursday night.

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Maccabi Tel Aviv center Shawn James

Maccabi Tel Aviv center Shawn James 370. (photo credit: Adi Avishai)

With a place in the Euroleague Top 16 all but wrapped up, Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Lokomotiv Kuban at Nokia Arena on Thursday night in a showdown which will likely decide first place in Group D.

Kuban (6-1) currently holds a one-game lead over Maccabi (5-2) with three regular season games to play, with Lokomotiv’s only defeat (73-58) coming against the yellow-and-blue in Russia last month.

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Kuban has won four consecutive continental contests since, including a 31-point thrashing of Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius (84-53) in Lithuania last week.

However, a Maccabi win on Thursday will see it leapfrog the Russians into first place and leave Tel Aviv with its fate in its own hands.

“This may be the game which decides first place in the group,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt.

“This is a critical game for us.

We aren’t completely healthy but we are ready.”

After missing Monday’s 87-85 defeat at Hapoel Jerusalem, Sofoklis Schortsanitis is expected to play on Thursday. However, captain Shawn James is still a doubt with a back injury.

“We haven’t been entirely healthy since the start of the season,” Blatt added. “We have entered many games with injured players and that has effected our play. But when everyone will be healthy you will see a stronger and more consistent team in both leagues.”

Blatt didn’t sound too concerned that the defeat to Jerusalem, which was Maccabi’s fourth in just nine BSL games this season, would have any lasting effect.

“Our form in the league hasn’t had any effect on our play in the Euroleague so far,” said the coach. “We have been excellent in our Euroleague campaign until now while in the Israeli league we have been very inconsistent.”

Kuban may have managed just 58 points in its first clash with Maccabi this season, but it has averaged 79.1 points in its other six games, led by Derrick Brown (15.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and former Tel Aviv forward Richard Hendrix (12.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg).

“In our first meeting Maccabi handled us pretty well,” said Hendrix. “They will be playing on the back of a loss in local action just like before our game in Krasnodar so we should prepare for a motivated team.

“But if we maintain the level of play we demonstrated in recent games we are definitely able to beat them.”

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