Maccabi TA players at training session in Cleveland, Ohio.
(photo credit: NOAM GALAI/MACCABI TEL AVIV WEBSITE)
David Blatt hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv and successor Guy Goodes in his first game as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night.
The game between Maccabi and Cleveland, which has been branded as Jewish Community Night by the organizers, was arranged before Blatt signed with the Cavs and long before LeBron James announced his return to Ohio.
Blatt’s ultimate move to Cleveland, becoming the first coach to make the leap from Europe to the NBA as a head coach, added intrigue to Sunday’s clash at the Quicken Loans Arena. However, it was LeBron’s return to the Cavs and the signing of Kevin Love, Mike Miller and Shawn Marion which turned the encounter into one of this year’s most anticipated pre-season games.
“We are still not in top form, but of course we have an advantage on paper,” said Blatt. “Nevertheless, Maccabi knows how to excel and I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Goodes can’t wait to face Blatt and the Cavs.
“Even though they have just started to train together this is probably the best team in the world,” said Goodes about the Cavs. “We will play hard and give Cleveland a fight. We are not coming just to make up the numbers.
The most important thing is that everyone has a fun night and no one gets injured.”
Earlier Sunday, Blatt will headline a tribute to Israel Defense Forces troops injured in Operation Protective Edge.
The non-profit group Friends of IDF will host the reception at the Quicken Loans Arena.
Maccabi, which will also play the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, is coming off a disappointing aggregate defeat to Flamengo in the FIBA Intercontinental Cup.
A 90-77 loss to Flamengo in the second leg in Rio last week erased the yellow-and-blue’s three-point win from the opening contest. But after a short rest, the team already conducted an open practice in Beachwood, Ohio on Thursday afternoon in front of 600 enthusiastic fans, many of them local Jews.
Blatt welcomed his former team at its hotel in downtown Cleveland and took the members of his old Maccabi coaching staff on a tour of his new offices. “It’s fun to see and to host the team from which I came, especially Guy and [assistant coach] Alon [Stein] and [fitness coach] Avi Kowalsky, the staff I worked with last season and to see them leading this famous club,” Blatt said.
Maccabi, which is making its fifth trip across the Atlantic in the last decade, was the first European opponent to play, host, defeat or win on the road against NBA teams. Its first win over an NBA opponent came in 1978 against the Washington Bullets in Tel Aviv and the first victory by a European team on North American soil came when it defeated the Toronto Raptors in 2005.
Nevertheless, Maccabi will enter Sunday’s encounter as a firm underdog.
“Hopefully, he will have some mercy,” said Goodes of Blatt. “If it gets to a 20-point gap, I hope he doesn’t make it 40.”
Maccabi center Alex Tyus echoed his coach’s sentiment. “He is going to want to win and he is going to want to win big. He wants to get the best out of his players,” he said of Blatt Maccabi guard Jeremy Pargo is looking forward to his return to Cleveland, where he briefly played during the 2012/13 season.
“It should be fun. Cleveland has a great fan base, a great arena and they really get behind basketball,” said Pargo. “With the return of LeBron it will be that more fun in the building.
It’s not often you get the opportunity to play a game of this magnitude even though it is a first preseason game of the year.
“We were very disappointed to lose the Intercontinental Cup. This trip hasn’t been easy, but it has certainly helped us to gel as a team.”