Maccabi Tel Aviv captain Guy Pnini will aim to build on his encouraging 15-point performance in the BSL win over Maccabi Haifa when the yellow-and-blue visits Unicaja Malaga tonight in Euroleague action..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv enters Thursday’s showdown with Unicaja Malaga in Spain knowing its Euroleague fate is no longer in its hands.
After falling to a 1-5 record last week with the 88-82 loss to CSKA Moscow, Maccabi could miss out on a place in the top four in Group D and a Top 16 berth even should it triumph in its four remaining regular season games.
However, encouraged by the notable improvement the team has shown since the hiring of new coach Zan Tabak combined with the never-say-die attitude that has become synonymous with the club, Maccabi heads into the clash with Malaga still believing it can resurrect its Euroleague campaign.
The yellow-and-blue is two games back of fourth-place Darussafaka Istanbul with four games to play, with the teams to meet in Turkey in their final regular season contest.
For that game to mean anything for Maccabi, Tabak’s team will have to enter it no more than one game behind the Turks, with Tel Aviv visiting Dinamo Banco di Sardegna Sassari in Italy next week before hosting Brose Baskets Bamberg of Germany.
Three days after the loss to CSKA, Maccabi picked up some much-needed confidence by thrashing Maccabi Haifa 103-63 in BSL action with a performance reminiscent of the days it dominated the league.
“What has made the difference is the attitude,” explained Tabak. “The only thing we are doing now which we didn’t do before is that we are more aggressive defensively and are trying to run on offense. We are still a long way from where we want to be, but this is a first step.”
Tabak also drew positives from the loss to CSKA.
“There are two aspects to this game,” explained the Croat. “The first aspect is that we lost the game. Result-wise this was really important for us and we wanted to get one step closer to qualifying for the Top 16. And that’s important because of the situation we’re in right now. That’s the negative. The second one is a positive because of the team effort the players gave from the first minute.”
Malaga has an impressive 5-1 record in Group D, but it enters Thursday in a far from ideal situation. The Spaniards were thrashed 73-53 at Bamberg last week and fell to their third straight loss over all competitions with Sunday’s 82-79 defeat to Andorra in the Spanish league.
Tabak will be facing one of his coaching mentors on Thursday. He began his coaching career as an assistant to Joan Plaza when he guided Real Madrid in 2006, with the two then moving together to Cajasol Seville for two seasons.
Unicaja’s offense is ranked second in the league in assists (20.5) and third in offensive boards (12.8), but it is also last in defensive rebounds (19.7) and 23rd in fouls committed (18 per game). Maccabi ranks 19th in two-point shooting percentage (48.6%) and allows 84.2 points per game.
Malaga beat Maccabi 93-82 at Yad Eliyahu last month, surging ahead with a late 9-0 run.
“We remember the game against Malaga at Yad Eliyahu very well,” said Maccabi captain Guy Pnini. “We didn’t play well and weren’t aggressive enough. If we allow them to score the same amount of points again Thursday’s game will also end in the same fashion. Coach Tabak has very clear rules and that has helped us as we are a new team.
“We are progressing with every day, but we will be playing for our lives in Europe in Malaga.”