Maccabi Tel Aviv can all but wrap up its progress to the Euroleague quarterfinals with a victory over Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia on Friday evening.
A win for Maccabi combined with a likely triumph for group-leader Real Madrid at Galatasaray will give the yellowand- blue a four-game cushion over fifth place with five games remaining in the Top 16.
Tel Aviv also still hopes to finish among the top two in Group F and secure home-court advantage in the playoffs.
However, before they turn their focus to the home games against Madrid and CSKA Moscow – who are both one game in front of Maccabi – David Blatt’s men will first need to overcome Kuban for the fourth time this season to effectively secure a top-four finish and a last eight berth.
The yellow-and-blue won 73-58 when the teams met in Russia in regular season action in November before also claiming home triumphs over Kuban a month later and at the start of the Top 16 two months ago.
Maccabi improved to 6-2 last week with a convincing 97-81 thrashing of Galatasaray at Nokia Arena and is aiming to hand Kuban (3-5) its fourth straight Euroleague defeat and its eighth loss over the past 11 continental contests.
“It’s a cliché that it is difficult to beat the same team again and again,” said Maccabi forward Guy Pnini. “If we play well we will win and that will have nothing to do with the fact that we have already beaten them three times. Both teams know each other very well and this will be a real battle. If we win we will essentially book our place in the playoffs.”
Maccabi will be without Yogev Ohayon for a second straight week, with the guard still recovering from an eye injury, but center Alex Tyus is expected to play despite struggling with an ankle injury in training this week.
Maccabi will be hoping for another strong showing from Sofoklis Schortsanitis against Lokomotiv, with the Greek center averaging 15.7 points in 20.3 minutes per game in three meetings with the Russians compared to his season averages of 9.3 points in 15 minutes.
“In the last game against them, I just tried to play the way coach wanted me to,” said Sofo.
“Now we’re going over there and it’s a completely different story. They’re coming out of a really good game against CSKA, and it’s going to be tough.”
In other basketball news, Bnei Herzliya coach Effi Birenboim surprisingly resigned late Wednesday night.
The 59-year-old decided to quit after the team suffered its ninth defeat over the past 10 games on Monday, losing 83-81 in overtime to Ironi Ness Ziona.
Herzliya dropped to a 6-15 record, just two games above Maccabi Ashdod and last place, which leads to National League relegation.
Muli Katzurin will replace Birenboim, returning to coach in Israel for the first time since 1999. Katzurin coached in Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic over the past 15 years, while also guiding the Israel national team for seven years between 1997 and 2004.