Maccabi Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv can’t afford anything but a win against Barcelona in Spain on Thursday night if it has any intention of finishing among the top two in Group E of the Euroleague Top 16 and securing home-court advantage in the quarterfinals.
Maccabi and Barcelona are tied in second place with 6-3 records, with five games to play.
The yellow-and-blue snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Catalans two months ago, claiming a dramatic 70-68 win at Yad Eliyahu Arena. However, Maccabi’s last victory in Barcelona came almost 10 years ago.
Barca has gone 9-1 at home in the Euroleague so far this season, including 5-0 in the Top 16, winning by an average 11.6 points per contest.
Since the defeat in Tel Aviv, Barcelona has won five of six games, with its only loss coming against group-leader Real Madrid on the road. Maccabi, on the other hand, has suffered two unexpected setbacks over its past three games, losing at home to Alba Berlin and on the road to Red Star Belgrade last week.
Following Thursday’s showdown, Barca will cap the Top 16 with visits to the group’s three bottom sides while also hosting Real. Tel Aviv’s schedule looks to be far tougher, with the yellow- and-blue still having to visit Madrid and Berlin. As a result, a defeat on Thursday, especially if it is by more than two points, would be a significant blow to Maccabi’s hopes of finishing in second place.
While home-court advantage is very often a decisive factor in the Euroleague playoffs, Maccabi coach Guy Goodes is determined to not look too far ahead, insisting that his team’s goal is to qualify for the quarterfinals.
“Our target over the next month is to advance from the Top 16 and be among the last eight,” he said. “Once we do that we will think about other things. I don’t think this game is crucial, but I do think that if we beat Barcelona it will certainly give us a boost. I’m not that concerned about which position we advance from. We still have five more games so we’ll see how things unfold.”
Goodes will hope Sofoklis Schortsanitis will be able to build on his impressive showing against Maccabi Rishon Lezion in BSL action earlier this week after he struggled against Red Star and missed the game against Panathinaikos with an ankle injury.
Star forward Devin Smith will also be in action after missing the game against Rishon, with an MRI on his knee revealing no serious damage.
“We need everyone to be committed and healthy to beat Barca on the road,” said Goodes. “We are a talented enough team to do that. When everything falls into place we can beat any team.”
After allowing 89 points in Belgrade last week, Smith believes defense will be the key to Maccabi’s chances in Barcelona.
“My knee is a little painful, but I feel good,” said Smith, who is Maccabi’s leading scorer (15.4 points per game) and rebounder (6.4 rpg) in the Euroleague. “Barcelona is an excellent team of a very high level. We haven’t played our best defense in recent games and against Barcelona we will have to do that if we want to win.”
In other local hoops news, Ariel Beit-Halachmi was named as the coach of Hapoel Gilboa/Galil on Wednesday following the sacking of Barak Peleg earlier in the day.
Gilboa is rock bottom of the BSL standings with a 5-17 record, after losing its past 10 games. Gilboa’s last win came almost three months ago.
“Staying up is the club’s most important mission,” read a club statement. “The change in the coaching position only came after we made significant changes to the roster.”
Beit-Halachmi last coached in the BSL in 2012/13, guiding Bnei Herzliya and Elitzur Ashkelon.