Maccabi TA 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be looking to improve its performance against European opposition on Thursday night when it hosts Lottomatica Roma in Matchday 3 of the Euroleague.
Tel Aviv was humbled 103-91 by Partizan Belgrade in Serbia last week and, despite thrashing Hapoel Jerusalem in its BSL opener on Sunday, has yet to show that it can play anywhere near the level it displayed in recent seasons.
Roma has also suffered an inconsistent start to the season, winning its first Euroleague game of the season against Partizan, but disappointingly losing to Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia last week.
The Italian team, which has also split its first six domestic league games, boasts European basketball legend Dejan Bodiroga. The 33-year-old is no stranger to Maccabi, facing the Israelis in three successive Final Fours from 2000 to 2002 when he was at his peak for former club Panathinaikos.
Roma coach Jasmin Repesa, who joined the club over the summer, will face one of his prot g s on Thursday. Repesa coached Maccabi star Nikola Vujcic as a youngster at KK Split and later with the Croatian national team, and his familiarity with the center could prove to be crucial. Vujcic, who has averaged 12.5 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the first two Euroleague games, continues to be as consistent as ever and is once again the backbone of the Maccabi team.
"Maccabi is a new team and needs time. They have a very talented side and if they will be patient, they will have a great future," Repesa said on Wednesday. "Our situation is very difficult. I joined Roma very late because I was with the Croatia national team during the summer.
"We haven't completed our roster yet and we are looking for new players. We've started the season badly, but I hope we will finish it well."
Repesa will need a multinational effort if he is to slow down Vujcic. Greek Loukas Mavrokefalides, Serbian Ognjen Askrabic and Italian Luca Garri only averaged a total of 14 points in the first two Euroleague games, but their mission on Thursday will be first and foremost to stop Maccabi's big man.
Another intriguing match-up will see Maccabi's Will Bynum (17.5 points per game, 2.5 assists per game, 3.5 turnovers per game) face Roma's David Hawkins (12.5 ppg, 4 steals per game). Bynum is still trying to find the right mixture of shooting and passing and has suffered from poor decision-making so far this season. He will face the strong defense of Hawkins and will need to make sure he reduces his turnovers to a minimum.
Maccabi leads the Euroleague in points scored with 98.5 per game and despite Roma averaging 30 points less, the visitors will count on their defense to keep them competitive.
"We know we have a difficult game tomorrow. Maccabi has a new coach and a new team, but the atmosphere at Nokia Arena is always the same," Bodiroga commented after arriving in Israel. "We feel good. We started in a similar fashion to Maccabi, losing one game and winning one game.
"There are three to four teams that are the favorites for first place in the group and we will fight with the others for qualification for the top 16."
Rodney Buford will be in Maccabi's roster for the game, despite rumors claiming that his departure from the team is imminent. Buford spent the entire 40 minutes of the game against Jerusalem on the bench and it will be interesting to see how many minutes Maccabi coach Neven Spahija gives him against Roma.
"I have 12 players on my roster and I can't play with all of them," Spahija said on Wednesday. "Buford was good at practice tonight, but I think he can play much better. I believe he is a player of the highest level."
Spahija is still familiarizing himself with Tel Aviv and feels that the win against Jerusalem on Sunday will be a big help ahead of the game against Roma. "We went through a rough period after the game against Partizan, but the win on Sunday helped our confidence a lot," Spahija said.
"We are looking much better now. The fact that we will stay in Tel Aviv for the next couple of weeks will be very helpful for the team. We have already played well this season; we just have to do it consistently."