Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Alex Tyus.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv faces its toughest challenge to date and arguably its most difficult regular season game of the campaign on Friday, visiting Euroleague leader CSKA Moscow in Russia.
CSKA has a 9-2 record, only losing at Real Madrid and against reigning champion Fenerbahce, and has beaten Maccabi in Moscow in seven straight games since the 2003/04 season.
Only one of those games was even close, with the yellow-and-blue’s last four visits over the past four years ending in defeats by an average 24.3 points per game.
The showdown in Moscow will be the start of one of its most difficult stretches of the season, with Tel Aviv to visit Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos next Tuesday before hosting Fenerbahce two days later.
Maccabi improved to 7-4 with a 94-91 victory over Valencia at Yad Eliyahu Arena last week, but coach Neven Spahija was nevertheless extremely unhappy with his team’s defensive play.
Three days later, Maccabi allowed 93 points in its first BSL defeat of the season against Hapoel Holon, and while it returned to winning ways at Ironi Nahariya on Tuesday, it yet again struggled on the defensive end, with Nahariya scoring 90 points in an eight-point loss.
Spahija once more spoke of his displeasure with the way his team was playing and that the lack of practice time has made it difficult to correct mistakes.
“Maccabi tries to win every game it plays and as we have said many times before, we don’t enter any game as an underdog,” said Spahija on Thursday. “However, it is no shame to say that CSKA is a better team and one of the best teams in Europe.”
Maccabi faces the Euroleague’s top offensive side, with CSKA averaging 88.2 points per game. Nando De Colo (16.6 ppg, 4.4 apg), Sergio Rodriguez (13.5 ppg, 5.0 apg) and Cory Higgins (13.3 ppg) give CSKA one of the top backcourts in Europe, setting up an intriguing showdown with Maccabi’s Pierre Jackson (14.9 ppg) and Norris Cole (12.5 ppg, 4.1 apg).
“This game will allow us to see where we stand at the moment,” said Cole. “We need to improve our defense and be more focused, especially against a team like CSKA. They have a lot of talent and can score from every position. We know what to expect and we will be ready.”