Maccabi Tel Aviv’s forward Devin Smith..
(photo credit: NOAM GALAI/MACCABI TEL AVIV)
Maccabi Tel Aviv tips off its 2015/16 Euroleague campaign with arguably the toughest game possible, visiting CSKA Moscow in Russia.
Maccabi hasn’t beaten CSKA in Moscow since 2004, losing in its past five visits and in nine of 10 meetings in Russia over the past two decades.
While the new-look yellow-and-blue is aiming to reach just its second Final Four in five years, CSKA has missed out on European basketball’s showcase event only once in the past 13 years and begins 2015/16 as one of the favorites for the title once more.
Moscow lost just four of 30 games in the Euroleague last season, but was surprised by Olympiacos Piraeus in the semifinals of the Final Four.
Maccabi and CSKA will be meeting in the regular season for a second straight year, with the Russians winning both games last term by an average margin of 20.5 points per game.
After being swept by Fenerbahce in the Euroleague quarterfinals last season and being knocked out in the BSL semifinals for the first time in 22 years, Maccabi underwent a complete overhaul during the summer, with only five players coming back for another campaign (Yogev Ohayon, Devin Smith, Sylven Landesberg, Guy Pnini and Brian Randle).
The club brought in six new names, including former NBA guard Jordan Farmar, who spent a two-month stint in Tel Aviv during the NBA lockout in 2011.
Last season’s Euroleague top scorer Taylor Rochestie, Trevor Mbakwe, Dagan Yivzori, former Boston Celtics center Vítor Faverani and Arinze Onuaku were all also signed, with Croatian teenage phenom Dragan Bender returning from a one-year loan at Ironi Ramat Gan of the second division.
Yivzori will miss Thursday’s game through injury while Faverani is also doubtful.
“We are facing one of the best teams in Europe, but we believe we can win there,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes, who is back for another campaign despite last season’s disappointment.
“Our guys are really ready and we are confident. The fact this is the first game of the campaign can help us register a surprise, but these are always tricky and dangerous games and we need to make sure we are composed because we will be punished for every mistake,” Goodes added.
CSKA has held on to most of last season’s roster, but has lost three key players, with Sonny Weems and Sasha Kaun leaving for the NBA, while Andrei Kirilenko retired. Greek coach Dimitrios Itoudis is back for a second season.
“The games between CSKA and Maccabi are always interesting,” said Itoudis. “Our opponents have a very strong team again. They like to score and run the floor, so we have to stop them, stay focused through all 40 minutes and control the tempo of the game.”