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Maccabi Tel Aviv takes on Spanish champion Real Madrid on Thursday in a Euroleague Top 16 game for all the marbles.
A big win - by 15 points or more - for coach Pini Gershon's club will see the defending two-time Euroleague champs leapfrog Madrid for first place in Group E and help pave the way to the quarterfinals and beyond. However a defeat could be devastating to the team's three-peat aspirations.
When these teams met last month in their Top 16 openers, Real dominated early on the way to a 90-75 win. Anthony Parker was Maccabi's only player to step up, scoring a season-high 26 points and winning Euroleague player of the week honors for his performance. One of the yellow-and-blue's problems in Madrid was that starting point guard WillSolomon was playing with a wrist injury, which limited his effectiveness.
"We obviously had a subpar game there and we know we can play a lot better," Parker said of the previous meeting at Wednesday night's practice. "They played a great game there."
Parker,Solomon and team captain Derrick Sharp are crucial to Maccabi's plans, especially with swingman Tal Burstein doubtful with a leg injury. Defense will be key against Real, which has one of the deepest and most talented backcourts in the league. Igor Rakocevic and Louis Bullock make up the highest scoring guard duo in the Euroleague and were keys to Madrid's win last time.
Alex Scales and Josh Fisher both await on the bench to help Real stay fresh for 40 minutes.
The game is Maccabi's first since defeating rival Hapoel Jerusalem on Sunday for its ninth straight State Cup, but the partying didn't last long and the players are focused on the task at hand.
"We know what they're going to do and what they like to do," Sharp said. "We're just going to have to go out there and take it away from them."
Reserve big man Jamie Arnold has been in fine form lately and could see extended minutes if either Nikola Vujcic or Maceo Baston suffer from foul trouble against the quick Real frontline.
Also onThursday in GroupE, Ulker Istanbul hosts Climamio Bologna.
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