Baby Shaq 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
After beginning the Israeli hoops season by brushing aside its local opponents,
David Blatt’s new-look Maccabi Tel Aviv faces its first true challenge on
Thursday night when it visits Caja Laboral Vitoria in Spain in its Euroleague
Maccabi won its three games on the way to the BSL League Cup by
an average 20.5 points per game last week before opening its regular season
campaign with a 102-75 thrashing of reigning champion Hapoel
However, none of Tel Aviv’s encounters to date will have
prepared it for the intensity and hostility of Thursday’s showdown at the
Fernando Buesa Arena.
Vitoria beat Maccabi both home and away last
season, and even though it has gone through some changes over the summer, it is
still coached by Montenegrin authoritarian Dusko Ivanovic and has held on to
several key players from last term.
“This is an extremely difficult
game,” Blatt told The Jerusalem Post.
“It’s a hard away game at a hard
away court. Vitoria has played more official and high level games than we have
up to this point and that defiantly has an impact on the readiness of the team.
They also have a roster with more continuity from last year and it’s going to be
a real tough first game for us.”
Vitoria won two of its first three
Spanish league games before going on a short NBA tour last week, which included
defeats to Memphis and the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spanish champion’s
biggest off-season loss was the departure of Tiago Splitter to San Antonio. The
Brazilian was the star of the side, but after turning down the NBA time and
again, eventually chose to join the Spurs this summer.
without Splitter and the injured Marcus Haislip, Ivanovic has got plenty of
weapons at his disposal.
Playmaker Marcelinho Huertas will dictate
Vitoria’s offense, looking to create openings for such players as David Logan
and Mirza Teletovic.
Teletovic is perhaps the Spaniards most dangerous
player, something Maccabi should know very well after he led Laboral to a 91-82
win at Nokia Arena last season, hitting eight of 14 three-pointers on his way to
“We hope to get our European season off to a good start,”
“Caja Laboral is an extremely good team, especially at home,
and we’re working hard to arrive for the game in the best possible condition.
We’ll see on Thursday if we’re ready for the highest levels. During the
preseason we played mostly away games, and perhaps that will help us a bit,
though Vitoria is one of the strongest teams in Europe.
hard, and we’re coming into this game in reasonably good shape and with
confidence that every player knows what his role is. We’re not yet in top form,
it will take us another month at least, but we’re definitely headed in the right
Ivanovic is also expecting an especially tough
“Maccabi is a very difficult opponent because this year they have a
very long roster, with fast and athletic players, without doubt a team with the
highest aspirations,” he said. “This is the first game of the competition, and
even though we are playing at home, it will be quite a challenge for
Thursday’s game will be a particularly special occasion for Lior
After three campaigns at Maccabi, the 25-year-old forward played
for Vitoria last season, and despite struggling under Ivanovic’s system, he
scored 18 points in the win that clinched the Spanish league title against
Euroleague champion Barcelona.
However, one year on the continent was
more than enough for Eliyahu, who gave up a lot of money to return to Tel Aviv
on a five-year contract.
“The truth is, I’m not very excited yet, but
when we enter the arena and I see the people there the memories will come
flooding back, including that of the great championship I won with Vitoria,”
Eliyahu said. “I think the crowd will give me a warm welcome but even if they
don’t, I’ll just put that aside as any professional player would
“Vitoria always presents a tactical team, and it’s always tough to
play there, especially so with them being coached by Ivanovic.”