Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to resurrect its floundering Euroleague campaign when it hosts Lottomatica Roma at the Nokia Arena on Thursday night.
Maccabi was in pole position to finish top of Group C before back-to-back losses left it needing to win both of its remaining group games and for other results to go its way to finish higher than third place and avoid a difficult draw in the Top 16.
Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon had plenty of time to mull over the defeats to Caja Laboral Vitoria and CSKA Moscow, with Maccabi losing in Russia some three weeks ago in its final game before the Euroleague's New Year break.
"We entered the break with two consecutive losses, so it came at the right time for us," Gershon said.
"Now we have two more games remaining until the end of the regular season and we must win both of them."
The veteran coach said he is not taking the Italian team lightly, even though it is one of the weaker sides in the Euroleague.
"When we went to Rome, they were on a three-game win streak, and since we beat them, they are on a losing streak. I think their true ability is somewhere in the middle of those streaks," he said.
"They have a new coach who has previously coached in the Euroleague, so he knows what it takes to make the change. They are still fighting to be in the Top 16 and every win will help them, so I'm sure we'll see them fight for every ball and we'll have to match that.
"Their backcourt is still one of the most athletic and dangerous in the Euroleague, and we'll need to pay attention to that if we want to avoid trouble."
Maccabi beat Roma on the road 92-90 after overtime in November, handing the Italians their first Euroleague defeat of the season after a 3-0 start to the campaign.
Roma has not won in Europe since, and enters Thursday's game on the back of a five-game losing streak.
Matteo Boniciolli replaced Nando Gentile as coach and he is hopeful the team will continue to show progress under his guidance at the Nokia Arena.
"We are growing and improving our game," Boniciolli said. "It will be a very tough game for us. We know the great value of their coach, of the team and the importance of basketball in Israel. But we have to try to win and take advantage of our last chance."
Kennedy Winston is Roma's leading scorer (16.3 ppg) and most consistent player. The American forward has failed to reach double-figures in only one of his team's eight continental games so far, scoring a season-high 26 points in Roma's most recent loss to Maroussi BC.
Roma has three more players who average in double-digits while Maccabi has a far stronger roster, even with Alan Anderson, Yaniv Green, Chuck Eidson and Doron Perkins all struggling with their fitness.
Polish center Maciej Lampe is one player who will definitely not be on court on Thursday. Lampe has most probably played his last game for Maccabi, with Russian club Kazan the favorite to take him off Tel Aviv's hands.
"I think the game depends on us," said Gershon. "Roma changed its coach and the team changed a little as well so we need to be ready for everything. However, we are playing at home and we have more quality on our team."
claims weekly honors
Hapoel Jerusalem forward Brandon Hunter was named as the Eurocup's regular season Week 5 MVP on Wednesday in one of the closest races since the competition was created in 2003.
Despite coming off the bench, Hunter led Hapoel to a 96-81 road triumph at BC Siauliai with 24 points on 10-of-11 two-point shooting. He added six rebounds, five assists, a block and nine fouls drawn for a performance index rating of 33.