Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Norris Cole (30) will try and brush aside his recent struggles with consistency when the yellow-and-blue hosts CSKA Moscow tonight in Euroleague action at Yad Eliyahu Arena.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
With four of its final six Euroleague regular season games coming on the road, Maccabi Tel Aviv could really use another home victory on Thursday night.
It will need to register its biggest win of the season to do so, with current leader CSKA Moscow visiting Yad Eliyahu Arena.
Maccabi continues to cling on to a place in the top eight in the standings, despite dropping to an 83-69 loss to Unicaja Malaga in Spain last week. Maccabi fell to a 12-11 record, but remained in eighth place, two games ahead of Baskonia Vitoria and Malaga, with each team having seven more regular season games left to play.
Maccabi has impressed at Yad Eliyahu over recent months, winning its last three home games and six of its past seven, averaging 88.3 points in those six victories. But it faces a CSKA side with a sensational 18-5 record, with only one of the side’s last four defeats coming by more than four points.
The yellow-and-blue is a clear underdog, but will be desperate to register an upset to try and make up for its poor results on the road, especially knowing it still has to visit Istanbul twice, including to face reigning champion Fenerbahce, as well as travel to Spain for its final two games at Vitoria and Valencia.
Not only has Maccabi struggled to win away from Yad Eliyahu this season, it has had a real difficulty even keeping the games close. Tel Aviv dropped to 3-8 on the road this season with last week’s loss in Malaga, with its only away victory over the past three months coming at the slumping Olimpia Milano.
In its other road contests since the triumph at Khimki Moscow on November 16, Maccabi has lost by an average 17.3 points, falling by at least 12 points in each game, including a 101-86 defeat at CSKA Moscow last December. The yellow-and-blue was outscored 28-14 in the second quarter and was never close to completing a comeback.
It was just the latest Maccabi setback against CSKA, which has missed just one Euroleague Final Four since 2002. CSKA has beaten Maccabi in 10 of their last 11 meetings dating back to the 2009/10 season, which was also the last time the yellow-and-blue defeated its old rival in Tel Aviv.
“We are playing probably the best Euroleague team, not just now but in the past decade,” said Maccabi coach Neven Spahija. “They are playing amazing basketball with amazing rosters. They are consistently playing at a very high level, but we said before the season and we repeated it many times that we want to compete and that when we play our best basketball we can beat anybody.
Also, we said no matter how good the opponent is, we don’t want to be the underdog. “We are playing in front of our crowd, we prepared for the game, everybody is healthy and we will try to give our best to win the game.”
Spahija is confident his team can bounce back from the painful defeat in Malaga.
“So many times this year we have shown that we can recover in a short time. We have had worst defeats than at Malaga and we have recovered,” he explained. “Every time when we had a tough loss we reacted and I expect that from my players one more time.”
Victor Rudd, who played for Maccabi last season, will be returning to Yad Eliyahu for the first time after recently joining CSKA on a shortterm deal.
“For me it will be just another game, though a very important one,” he insisted. “Maccabi has a completely new team this year; they actually have just one guy left on the roster since my time there. For me it will be nice to see people from the staff and fans. I am still in touch with many of them on the phone and social media. It will be great to see them. Also we have a chance to enjoy some nice warm weather for at least a couple of days.”
CSKA is by far the Euroleague’s best offensive team, averaging a league-high 89.8 points per game, four more than Real Madrid in second place and almost seven more than Zalgiris Kaunas in third. Maccabi is fifth in the competition with 81.7 points per game.
“They have arguably the best offense in the Euroleague,” said Maccabi captain John DiBartolomeo.
“They have a lot of strong players and we need to help each other in order to stop them.”