(photo credit: )
Maccabi Tel Aviv visits DKV Joventut Badalona on Thursday night in a head-to-head battle for second place in Group B of the Euroleague.
Maccabi (6-4) comes into the game in a despondent mood after its 88-81 overtime loss to Lottomatica Roma last week, its fourth road defeat in five games. On the other hand, Badalona (6-4) will be in good spirits after recording its fourth win in five Euroleague games last Wednesday, defeating Partizan Belgrade 83-74.
Thursday's game in Spain will be a clash of styles, with the offensively-minded Tel Aviv (leads the Euroleague with an average of 89.6 points per game) meeting the defensive Joventut (holds its opponents to 71.1 ppg).
Badalona averages 11 points less than Maccabi, but will nevertheless be brimming with confidence against the one-dimensional Israeli club. The hosts have only lost once in their four home games this season (to Panathinaikos in the first game of the campaign) and will be cheered by the fact that Maccabi allows its opponents a massive 87 points in away games.
"This is a very difficult game as they are one of the best teams in the group," Tel Aviv coach Neven Spahija said on Wednesday before flying out to Spain. "They are in good shape and were very impressive in the game last week against Belgrade.
"We are improving every day, but we still lack in experience. We learned from the games against Panathinaikos, Partizan and especially Roma. If we play more consistently and make smarter decisions, at the end of the game we have a chance to win."
Tel Aviv easily defeated Badalona 92-75 in their first meeting of the season at Nokia Arena, but the Spaniards were plagued by injury and were without their biggest star, Rudy Fernandez.
The 21-year-old Spaniard, who leads his team with 16.3 points per game, is once more struggling with his fitness but is expected to take part in the game.
Joventut coach Aito Reneses is fully aware of the crucial role Maccabi center Nikola Vujcic (16.6 ppg, 7.8 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game) plays on offense and will likely unleash his three giants in an effort to slow the Croatian down.
Andy Betts (2.17 meters, 9.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), Robert Archibald (2.09m, 8.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Roberto Duenas (2.18m) may combine for less skill than Vujcic possesses on his own, but their sheer strength and height will make life extremely uncomfortable.
Jamie Arnold (8.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg), who will be playing against his former team, and Lior Eliyahu (11.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg), will be vital in relieving some of the pressure their center faces and will be hoping to feed off Vujcic.
Elmer Bennett (9.2 ppg, 3.1 apg) will be in charge of the hosts' playmaking, with Lubos Barton (10.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and Charles Gaines (8.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg) two of the players finishing off his passes.
Bennett will be helped by 16-year-old Ricard Rubio (3.9 ppg, 3.5 apg, 4.3 spg), who is already fulfilling some of his seemingly boundless promise.
"Maccabi is a team with a lot of experience in the league and are one of the big clubs in Europe," veteran Badalona forward Ferran Lavina told the Euroleague Web site. "We have to try to neutralize their game and attempt to surprise them. Beating Maccabi would be a great boost for us as we want to show we are going for that second place in our group. We have to play a great game to win."
Maccabi's biggest problem in its losses this season has been in the playmaking position. Will Bynum averages 13.1 points and 3.6 assists per game, but drops to 8.8 points and 1.6 assists in road games. The American struggles with his ball control and leads the Euroleague with 3.6 turnovers per game.
Yotam Halperin (8.8 ppg) and Derrick Sharp (10 ppg) will have to share the load with Bynum and will need to break the Spanish club's defense and dictate the pace of the game in order to improve Tel Aviv's chances of returning home with a win.
"We analyzed our recent games and mistakes and I believe we will continue to improve," Halperin said on Wednesday. "I'm certain we will look better than we did last week and that we are able to win this game."