Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Pierre Jackson (right) drives past Unicaja Malaga’s Ray McCallum (left) during their meeting in Tel Aviv two months ago..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
After a rare break from Euroleague action, Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Unicaja Malaga on Thursday night to start an eight-game stretch over the next six weeks to wrap up the regular season.
Maccabi is well placed to return to the quarterfinal playoffs for the first time since 2014/15, sitting in eighth place in the standings with a two-game lead over Baskonia Vitoria in ninth.
However, with Unicaja and Red Star Belgrade only a further game back, and with Maccabi losing six of its past seven road games and still having to visit both Malaga and Vitoria, the yellow-and-blue has got plenty of work to do to achieve its pre-season goal of making it back to the continental post-season.
Tel Aviv improved to a 12-10 record by winning three of its past four games, defeating Barcelona at home two weeks ago in its most recent contest after falling at Zalgiris Kaunas following victories over Red Star and Olimpia Milano.
That triumph in Milano snapped a fivegame losing streak on the road, but Maccabi then dropped to yet another double- digit defeat away from Yad Eliyahu Arena in Kaunas, falling to 3-7 in road games this season.
Maccabi lost at Barcelona, CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos, Real Madrid and Olympiacos by an average 18.4 points per contest before defeating Milano 111-102, only to be outplayed in a 99-84 setback against Zalgiris.
With only three of its remaining eight games to be played at Yad Eliyahu, Maccabi will need to start winning on the road on a more regular basis to maintain its position in the top eight.
Malaga would be a great place to start, with a victory on Thursday to open a significant four-game lead over the Spaniards with just seven games to play.
Maccabi suffered a demoralizing 89-78 defeat to Malaga at Yad Eliyahu when the teams met at the end of December, squandering a 14-point first-half lead.
That capped a four-game winning streak for Unicaja, which has experienced its fair share of misfortune since. Malaga has won just two of its past seven Euroleague games, but that is a slightly misleading indication of its recent form. Four of its five defeats all came by exactly two points, and it is also coming off a 79-68 home victory over Efes Istanbul.
The showdown will feature teams of contrasting styles, with Unicaja allowing just 74 points per game in its last four outings, even though it won only two of them, compared to 93 points surrendered by Maccabi, which won three of its last four.
Maccabi is coming off a BSL victory over Maccabi Ashdod, but could really use a victory in Malaga to forget once and for all about last Thursday’s painful defeat to Hapoel Holon in the State Cup final.
“The cup is history and we have to think about the future. To win the game against Ashdod under such conditions was very important to us,” said Maccabi coach Neven Spahija. “We are counting the games down and every game is important. Malaga won against us in Tel Aviv which means that to win there would be huge.”