Preview: Athens adventure for Mac TA to open

Yellow-and-blue on a 10-game overall streak as it tips off Euroleague Top 16 at Panathinaikos.

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December 30, 2014 06:23
3 minute read.
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After being named the Euroleague MVP for the month of December last week, Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Devin Smith (right) is aiming to cap the year in style when the yellow-and-blue visits Panathinaikos tonight in its Top 16 opener.. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)

 
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Maccabi Tel Aviv and Panathinaikos renew their rivalry in the Greek capital on Tuesday night, with the yellow-and-blue aiming to get the Euroleague Top 16 off to a fast start.

It was at the start of the Top 16 last term that Maccabi’s season truly began to gather pace. Tel Aviv won its first four games, and despite losing six of its next 10, the yellow-and-blue went on to advance to the quarterfinal playoffs and ultimately claim the title in memorable fashion.

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Maccabi has won 10 straight games over all competitions and 14 of its past 15, but will not be taking anything for granted in Athens.

Besides Panathinaikos, Maccabi will also face Real Madrid, Barcelona, Red Star Belgrade, Zalgiris Kaunas, Galatasaray and Alba Berlin in the Top 16. The top four teams will advance to the playoffs.

While Panathinaikos is no longer the European powerhouse it used to be, the Greek champion will be playing in the Top 16 for a 14th consecutive season, looking to reach the playoffs for a fifth straight year.

Serbia’s Dusko Ivanovic was brought in to coach the side last summer, and despite a recent poor run of results, Panathinaikos is set to provide Maccabi with a stern examination.

Panathinaikos suffered an 81-75 defeat to bitter rival Olympiacos in local league action on Saturday while also ending the Euroleague regular season with three straight defeats.



However, apart from the loss to Barcelona in its final encounter of the regular season, Ivanovic’s side has dominated its home contests in the Euroleague, winning four games by an average margin of 16.8 points.

Playmaker Dimitris Diamantidis, starting center Esteban Batista, Antonis Fotsis and A.J.

Slaughter, who leads the team in scoring (12.7 ppg), are four players Maccabi will be particularly wary of.

“This will be our first game in the Top 16 and it is a very important game because we are going to play in our home court and we have to defend it,” said Ivanovic.

“Maccabi is the current Euroleague champion. This is a very tough team, we respect them but we must be ready to play hard and give our 100 percent to win this game.”

Euroleague MVP for December Devin Smith, former Panathinaikos center Sofoklis Schortsanitis and swingman Sylven Landesberg are all suffering from different ailments entering the contest, but only Landesberg is a real doubt for the game.

Smith starred for Maccabi to the tune of 20.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, four assists and two steals per game in December. His average performance index rating for the month was 25.7, which was second- best in the league and first among players on winning teams.

Maccabi’s new signing Joe Alexander could make his debut on Tuesday, even though he has only trained with the team for a couple of days.

The 28-year-old American, who will replace Aleks Maric, arrived from Santa Cruz of the NBA D-League, where he was among the league’s top performers this season with 21.7 points on 55.3% shooting plus eight rebounds a game.

He was a lottery pick for Milwaukee in the 2008 NBA Draft, but totaled just 67 games over two seasons for Milwaukee and Chicago due to injuries. Alexander didn’t play for two years because of a knee injury before returning to the D-League last year.

“We have a certain budget and we brought Joe now so that we will be able to bring another guard between the first and second rounds of the Top 16,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes.

“At the moment, everyone else is continuing with the team.”

First things first, however, with Maccabi wanting to get the Top 16 off to a winning start.

“The Top 16 is a different level,” said forward Brian Randle. “It is a different energy and competitiveness.

We will have to be focused against every opponent. I’m really looking forward to it. We have come a long way since the start of the season. We have matured and understood how to play with each other. We will have to be very focused to beat Panathinaikos in Athens.”

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