Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Devin Smith of Maccabi TA 370.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to recover quickly from its Monday-night BSL derby defeat to Hapoel Tel Aviv, as the yellow-and-blue faces a tough Euroleague test on Thursday night, with Laboral Vitoria coming to town.
The Spanish club is the only team to beat Maccabi in Group D so far, with that result coming in the regular season opener almost two months ago. Since then, the Israeli powerhouse has righted the continental ship, winning four games in a row to sit atop the group with a 4-1 record.
Maccabi has shown great versatility this season with four players – Ricky Hickman (13.6), Joe Ingles (13.2), Devin Smith (12.4) and Shawn James (10.8) – averaging double-digits in Euroleague scoring.
It also possesses two more players – sharpshooter David Blu and former All- Euroleague center Sofoklis Schortsanitis – who are legitimate game changers.
Laboral, meanwhile, has lost back-to-back games coming into Thursday’s contest to fall to 2-3, and the club has faced a recent spate of injury problems.
Lamont Hamilton, who scored 15 points to lead Vitoria to an 84-80 victory over Tel Aviv in Round 1, has been out of the lineup ever since and is poised to make his Euroleague return on Thursday.
However, Laboral could instead be without star forward and team-leading scorer (15.0 average) and rebounder (8.0) Andres Nocioni, who injured his knee in last week’s one-point loss to Lokomotiv Kuban.
The Spanish side knows how hard facing a hot Maccabi in Tel Aviv can be.
“We are very aware of the difficulty of the task we have ahead of us. Maccabi has had David Blatt as coach for many years, with a quality system. Plus they have a great crowd that knows how to put pressure on the opponents,” said Laboral coach Sergio Scariolo.
“On our part, we know this will be an important challenge and we will have to overcome the many injuries that still haunt us.”
Center Tibor Pleiss plays an important role for Vitoria and, together with Milko Bjelica, will need to limit James and Sofo inside, while Fernando San Emeterio, David Jelinek and Thomas Kelati look to slow down Maccabi wingmen Ingles and Smith.
The key matchup could be at point guard, where Hickman and Yogev Ohayon team up for Maccabi against Walter Hodge and Thomas Heurtel. Hickman has scored in double figures in seven straight and 13 of his last 14 Euroleague appearances.
Maccabi-Laboral clashes usually end up providing plenty of drama. Thursday night at Nokia Arena should be no different, as Vitoria tries to snap its recent skid and Tel Aviv seeks payback for its season-opening setback.