maccabi tel aviv 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
After losing back-to-back European road games, Maccabi Tel Aviv returns to its beloved Nokia Arena on Thursday night to face Cibona Zagreb in a Euroleague Group B game.
Maccabi (6-5) has won 13 consecutive home games and anything other than a 14th straight victory will be nothing short of a catastrophe for the hosts.
Zagreb (5-6) has recorded all of its five wins in the competition at home and, despite defeating Maccabi 87-82 when the clubs met at the end of November, will be a huge underdog in Tel Aviv.
Thursday's game promises to be a high-scoring affair as Maccabi has the potent offense in the Euroleague with 89.8 points per game and Cibona is the fifth-best scorer with 81.4 ppg.
Tel Aviv suffered a massive blow in its pursuit of second place in the group last week when it lost to DKV Joventut Badalona 98-92 after leading for most of the game. That defeat was preceded by an 88-81 overtime defeat to Lottomatica Roma seven days earlier, another game that the Israelis were only seconds away from winning.
Maccabi entered the two road games looking like it was closing in on the consistency it has lacked this season, but the tight losses exposed all of Tel Aviv's frailties, proving that the club is still far from finding the kind of form to which its fans have become accustomed in previous years.
"We know how to play basketball. We just need to play at the same level for 40 minutes and not for 30 or 39," Maccabi coach Neven Spahija said ahead of the game. "Cibona is a very good team. Nobody has been able to beat them by a big margin from the very beginning of the season, so it's going to be a tough game. We think we are a better team and we are going to play tough from the first moment to the very last.
"I expect a very difficult game, but we need to win this game."
Any hope the Croatian club has of recording a victory will likely rest on winning the battle of the perimeter. Davor Kos (12.6 points per game, 2.8 assists per game), swingman Chris Warren (12.6 ppg, 5.1 rebounds per game) and Andrew Wisniewski (11.8 ppg) would need to outplay Maccabi's struggling guards, putting pressure on Will Bynum (12.7 ppg, 3.9 turnovers per game) and Yotam Halperin (8.2 ppg. 2 tpg) any time the Maccabi players lead their team down the court.
"I think this is not a good moment to travel to Tel Aviv. They have lost two Euroleague games and one in the Israeli Cup, so I expect to see a total effort from them to stop the losing streak," Cibona coach Drazen Anzulovic told the Euroleague Web site. "We are not traveling to Tel Aviv to lose the game, and if we lose, I think each and every point is important because it is obvious that the struggle for the top 16 will continue until the last minute of the round.
"Our goal is to try to control the game and then we can hope for the best."
Despite being one of the highest scoring sides in the Euroleague, no player on Cibona scores more than 13.5 ppg., with forward Brindley Wright the team's top shooter. Wright (7.7 rpg) is joined under the baskets by Marton Bader (4.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg), who is doubtful for the game, and by Marin Rozic (4.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg), giving the Croatian club a short rotation which is guaranteed to struggle against the superior big men of Maccabi.
Nikola Vujcic (16.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.3 apg), Lior Eliyahu (11.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Jamie Arnold (8.6 ppg, 5 rpg) will be expected to dictate the play in the paint and, with the help of Sharon Shason, Yaniv Green and Noel Felix, will hope to dominate the game.
Simas Jasaits (13.1 ppg, 54 percent on three-point attempts) and Derrick Sharp (10.5 ppg, 59% 3FG) will provide the hosts with long-range shooting and a good scoring day by either of the two will greatly boost Maccabi's chances of another home win.
"This is a very important and tough game," Eliyahu said on Wednesday. "We are happy to settle for a one-point victory. Nobody on the team is speaking of thrashing them but only of winning.
"We give our opponents a lot of respect. We have no time to dwell on our defeats to Roma and Badalona; we must take this game."