Lior Eliyahu 311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt was confident his team will reach the
Euroleague quarterfinals after the yellow-and-blue was drawn on Wednesday into
Top 16 Group H with Barcelona, Bennet Cantu and Zalgiris Kaunas.
ended regular season Group C in second place with a 7-3 record, and although
Barca is undoubtedly one of the best team’s in Europe, Blatt was optimistic that
Tel Aviv will finish among the top two in its Top 16 group to advance to the
best-of- five quarterfinal playoffs.
“The most important thing is that we
advance to the playoffs, it is less critical from which position in the group,”
“I want to remind people that last season we ended our Top 16
group in second place and reached the Final Four and that two years ago Maccabi
finished in first but that didn’t help it in the quarterfinals.”
was speaking from Serbia where Maccabi is preparing for Thursday’s Adriatic
League game against KK Hemofarm after beating KK Radnicki 91-70 on Tuesday to
improve to 11-1.
Maccabi has won its last seven games in all competitions
by an average 23.7 points, and with Demond Mallet to officially join the team on
Thursday subject to a successful medical, Blatt is upbeat regarding the
yellow-and-blue’s prospects in 2012.
“We are in good shape and we are
improving all the time,” he said. “But we need to be in even better form for the
start of the Top 16 on January 19.”
Barcelona won regular season Group D
with a 9-1 record after holding its opponents to a Euroleague-best 59.9 points
per game. Lethal sharpshooter Juan Carlos Navarro (12.1 ppg, 3.1 apg), Erazem
Lorbek (14.7 ppg) and Marcelinho Huertas (9.2 ppg, 5 apg) are three of the
players Maccabi will have to focus on, with Blatt’s men to also come up against
a familiar face in Chuck Eidson (8.8 ppg), who helped the yellow-andblue reach
the Euroleague final last season.
Cantu of Italy became the first team to
seal a Top 16 spot, and with a 4-1 record at home, will be especially tricky to
beat on the road.
Forward Vladimir Micov (10.5 ppg) is the team’s only
player with a double-figure scoring average, but Maccabi fans will be
particularly wary of veteran Gianluca Basile, who has burned the yellow-and-blue
many times in the past.
Kaunas advanced to the Top 16 for a third
straight season after winning three of its final four games, and with players
like Sonny Weems (17.5 ppg) on its roster, will not go down without a
“We have received a very reasonable draw,” Blatt said. “Barcelona,
together with CSKA Moscow, has the deepest roster in the Euroleague. Barca is
very experienced and has superb quality, but we can find a way to beat them,
especially at Nokia Arena.
“Cantu is an excellent team and not many
people are aware of that. It was one of the surprise packages in the Euroleague
this season and knows how to beat big teams.
“Zalgiris is very
experienced in the Euroleague and is always dangerous, especially on the
Should Maccabi progress to the last eight it will meet a team from
Group G, which includes Fenerbahce Ulker, Panathinaikos, Unics Kazan and Olimpia
“Group G is relatively comfortable, but of course that guarantees
us nothing,” Blatt said.
“We must remain focused because there is almost
no room for mistakes in the Top 16.”
Maccabi will open its Top 16
campaign against Zalgiris on the road on January 19 before hosting Barcelona,
playing Cantu twice and welcoming Kaunas ahead of its final group game away at
“The draw is basically fine,” Maccabi forward Lior Eliyahu said.
“But we mustn’t think that our place in the playoffs is
Everyone is talking about the scary Barcelona, but we can’t
take Cantu or Zalgiris lightly.”