Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Sylven Landesberg goes up for a layup against Olimpia Milano at Madison Square Garden in New York.
(photo credit: NOAM GALAI/MACCABI TEL AVIV)
The Euroleague may not become a knockout competition until the Final Four, but anything but a win for Maccabi Tel Aviv on Thursday night and its continental season will already be over.
Maccabi has never failed to reach the Top 16, but despite improving to 2-6 in Group D with last week’s victory over Dinamo Banco di Sardegna Sassari, it remains in serious danger of missing out on a place in the top four and must beat Brose Baskets Bamberg of Germany at Yad Eliyahu Arena to maintain any hope of progressing.
Maccabi no longer has its fate in its own hands, but can enter its final game of the regular season with an outside chance should it defeat Bamberg and Darussafaka (4-4) lose as expected on Friday at group leader CSKA Moscow (7-1).
Tel Aviv visits Darussafaka in their 10th and final group game, and assuming results go its way over the next two days, the yellow-and-blue will be able to advance next week should it triumph by at least 12 points in Turkey to claim the tiebreaker after losing their first meeting of the season at Yad Eliyahu 84-73.
Apart from Ike Ofoegbu, coach Zan Tabak is expected to have a full roster at his disposal on Thursday, with Jordan Farmar and Devin Smith set to be fit.
“I’m trying to take positive energy and the things that we are working on every day,” said Tabak following the emphatic BSL win over Hapoel Eilat on Monday.
Bamberg (5-3) has already booked its place in the next round and beat Maccabi 77-66 when the teams met in Germany earlier this season.
The big difference between the teams this season has been on defense, with Maccabi in the bottom four in the competition (82.6 points allowed per game), while Bamberg is among the top three (72.3 ppg).
Bamberg coach Andrea Trinchieri feels his team will need to overcome the Maccabi fans as well as its players.
“The psychological impact of the arena is huge. You don’t play against a team, you play against a nation,” he said. “And Maccabi is not just a club, it’s the biggest professional sports club in Israel. So we will play under great mental pressure.”
While Maccabi requires favors to move on, guard Yogev Ohayon knows the team will have to first of all take care of its business.
“We have been working really hard and if we can build on the win in Sassari there’s hope,” said Ohayon. “We have got to take care of everything in our control and make sure we get our job done.”