Maccabi Tel Aviv 88.
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Tel Aviv plays its second Euroleague game of the season Thursday night against Serbian champion Partizan Belgrade.
Maccabi defeated Malaga 106-101 in overtime in its first EL game of the season at Nokia Arena last week, but will nevertheless be looking for a muchimproved performance in Belgrade.
Tel Aviv showed its two faces against Malaga last week - one minute playing sensational basketball and in the next looking lackluster in all aspects of the game. The team will first and foremost be hoping for a consistent performance against Partizan to prove that last week's game was no more than early season jitters.
Despite losing last week 65-60 to Lottomatica Roma, Partizan played well for large parts of the game and the young side will draw confidence from its performance in the Italian capital.
"It's going to be difficult because Partizan is a different team at home," Maccabi coach Neven Spahija said on Wednesday. "Playing on their home court is a very big advantage for them, but Maccabi will not change its goals and we want to win there.
"They don't have a budget like the top European clubs, but they have a very good basketball school. It's a very young and talented team which has been together with its coach for the last three years."
The most intriguing matchup on Thursday will be between former NBA player and new Partizan signing Predrag Drobnjak, who led his team with 17 points and nine rebounds against Roma, and Maccabi's Croatian center Nikola Vujcic, who had 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists last week. Both are excellent players in the paint and are equally comfortable playing from the perimeter.
Another interesting battle will be between Partizan playmaker Vonteego Cummings, who had 14 points and four assists last week, and Will Bynum, who led Maccabi against Malaga with 29 points. Bynum was guilty of bad decision-making last week and almost cost his side the game. He will need a solid performance against Cummings. Otherwise, Tel Aviv could find itself facing a bigger challenge than expected.
Belgrade also boasts talented 21-year-old center Kosta Perovic, who had six points and 12 rebounds against Roma, and 20-year-old Uros Tripkovic, who played poorly last week with only four points in 28 minutes. Perovic and Tripkovic are only two of the Serbian team's skilled youngsters and Tel Aviv will need to be wary of all of Partizan's players. Each and every one of them is a potential match-winner on any particular day.
"Maccabi is a little bit weaker than it was a year or two ago, but it is still an extremely good team and one of the strongest in Euroleague," Partizan coach Dusko Vujosevic told the Euroleague Web site. "It's a well-balanced team where Nikola Vujcic is the leader and the key for Maccabi's style of play.
"I think our chances come with the fact that Maccabi is not in top shape yet. We shall give our maximum and I believe we can surprise big Maccabi."
Tel Aviv will be looking for Lior Eliyahu, who scored 12 points and was excellent against Malaga, to turn in a similar performance on Thursday night and for Eliyahu's partner to the 2006 NBA draft, Yotam Halperin, to improve on his insecure play last week.
"Partizan is a team with a long tradition of playing with young and talented players," Halperin said. "It is never easy to play against them, especially on their home court. We had too many ups and downs in our recent games and we can't allow that.
"The win against Malaga gave us an initial push and every away win we can get will thrust us further forward."