Mac TA faces telling test against Khimki

On playoff bubble in Euroleague, yellow-and-blue has opportunity to build momentum at home.

March 15, 2018 06:19
2 minute read.
Mac TA faces telling test against Khimki

Maccabi Tel Aviv could really use forward Deshaun Thomas back in peak form as it hosts Khimki Moscow in another crucial Euroleague test tonight at Yad Eliyahu Arena. . (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)

A win over Khimki Moscow on Thursday night would not only significantly improve Maccabi Tel Aviv’s chances of returning to the Euroleague playoffs, but would also give it a realistic hope of avoiding powerhouse CSKA Moscow in the quarterfinals.

Maccabi returned to winning ways with last week’s 94-81 win at Efes Istanbul, improving to a 13-12 record to remain in eighth place.

Khimki’s surprise 86-77 loss to Olimpia Milano brought the yellowand- blue within a single game of the Russians, and with Maccabi winning in Moscow earlier this season, another victory on Thursday would take it above its opponent up to seventh place in the standings.

While Maccabi would be regarded as an underdog against any of the top four teams in a best-of-five quarterfinal series, at least it would feel it has an outside chance as long as it avoids leader CSKA Moscow, which has a 20-5 record and outplayed Tel Aviv with ease on the way to a 20-point win in Israel two weeks ago.

But before Maccabi begins to calculate who it would rather face in the playoffs, it is first focusing on securing a post-season berth, which is far from a given.

Tel Aviv holds a one-game lead over Baskonia Vitoria, with the Spaniards looking like the only real threat to the yellow-and-blue’s position in the top eight. Unicaja Malaga and Red Star Belgrade in 10th and 11th places, respectively, both lost last week and fell three games behind Tel Aviv with five games to play.

Maccabi plays three of its final four regular season games on the road, adding even more significance to its final two home encounters, against Khimki and then next Thursday versus Panathinaikos, which is also one game ahead of the yellow-and-blue.

Tel Aviv visits reigning champion Fenerbahce in Istanbul next Tuesday and will end the regular season with two away games at Vitoria and Valencia.

Maccabi beat Khimki 77-69 when the teams met in Moscow back in November, making the most of its opponent’s reckless ball handling and inefficient long-range shooting, with the hosts finishing with 20 turnovers and hitting only 7-of-25 three-point attempts (28%).

Khimki strengthened its position in the top eight with five wins over a sixgame stretch, but has since lost two in a row, falling at Baskonia and last week against Milano.

“Like us, Maccabi is fighting for the playoff spots,” said Khimki coach Georgios Bartzokas. “This is a typical pace team, a rhythm team, that ranks first in transition in the Euroleague.

Obviously, we have to control the game through important things like rebounding and having good execution without turnovers. Also, we have to try to adjust because their arena gives enthusiasm to the team. We need to cool down the rhythm through our good decisions during the game.”

Ahead of Thursday’s game, Maccabi will induct Devin Smith into the club’s hall of fame. Smith, who played a key role in the club’s march to the 2014 Euroleague title, retired last summer at the age of 34, with injuries shortening his career. Smith played for Maccabi for six seasons, also helping Tel Aviv to two BSL championships, six Israeli State Cups and the 2012 Adriatic League title.

“To have an honor like this, especially at a club like Maccabi, is amazing,” said Smith.

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