maccabi TA 88.
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be at full strength for the first time since the start of the Top 16 when it hosts Climamio Bologna on Thursday night at Nokia Arena.
Swingman Tal Burstein returned to action in Monday's BSL win over Ramat Hasharon, giving coach Pini Gershon a full arsenal as he tries to lock down first place in Group E and home-court advantage in the best-of-three quarterfinal playoffs. Maccabi can clinch a spot in the quarters with a win in either of its remaining Top 16 games, but may need to win both to edge Real Madrid for the top spot. Since both teams won at home against one another by the same margin, the tiebreaker between them would be total point difference over all six Top 16 games. Real (+18) currently leads Maccabi by three points. The Spanish champs host Ulker Istanbul on Thursday.
It's been two years since Bologna last played in Tel Aviv. The club, then known as Skipper, reached the 2004 Euroleague final only to be dismantled by Maccabi 118-74 as the yellow-and-blue claimed the first of back-to-back titles.
Now looking for a three-peat, the recent injury to Burstein may have actually been more of a blessing. Maccabi hardly skipped a beat without him, winning every game - including at Bologna and against Hapoel Jerusalem in the State Cup final - while also setting its rotation for the most important time of the season. Sharon Shason, who matched his season-high with 16 points last week, Derrick Sharp and Jamie Arnold are all playing more and scoring more in the Top 16 than in the regular season.
Bologna has lost three in a row and is in a must-win situation if it plans on playing past next week.
According to Gershon, that works in Maccabi's favor. "The fact they'll play with their backs against the wall can help us because they will be under big pressure," he told the Euroleague Web site.
The players Maccabi must be most wary of are center Erazem Lorbek, who had 19 points in 24 minutes when these teams met two weeks ago in Italy; power forward Travis Watson, who is averaging 9.2 rebounds in less than 20 minutes per game in the Top 16; and teenage shooting guard Marco Belinelli, Bologna's top scorer with 13.8 points per night.
Maccabi has won five of its last six games against Bologna and hasn't lost to the Italian club at home since 1998.