Maccabi Tel Aviv will take on the winningest European team of all time when it faces Real Madrid in what will be its 100th game in the history of the modern Euroleague.
Maccabi and Real have a rich history, which includes an 89-85 Madrid win in the 1980 European final. The Spanish champs have won 20 of the teams' 33 meetings, but Maccabi won the last two back in 1997.
Tal Burstein and team captain Derrick Sharp are the only players to take part in all of Maccabi's 99 games thus far.
The game is both teams' opener in Group E of the Top 16 and they are both anxious to get started on the right foot. Maccabi was fortunate to finish the regular season as the Group B champ, benefiting from surprise losses by Efes Pilsen and Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius on the closing night. Maccabi also received a wake-up call last week when it suffered its first domestic loss of the season to Maccabi Rishon.
Real lost its last three games of the Euroleague regular season to finish third in Group C with a 7-7 mark and is coming off a loss to Tau Vitoria in the Spanish King's Cup semifinals.
The two-time defending champs hope to have leading scorer Will Solomon at full strength, after the point guard injured his wrist during Monday's derby win over Hapoel. Solomon practiced Wednesday night and will likely be in the starting five.
Another question mark for Maccabi will be how reserves Kirk Penney and Jamie Arnold, who are not eligible to play in BSL games, respond after not seeing game action in two weeks.
Coach Pini Gershon clearly will not be taking this game lightly.
"The first game in the Top 16 is always important and I prefer to play it on the road, because when you play such a game at home there's more pressure, and if a team starts the Top 16 with a home loss it can have big influence on the rest of the road," he told the Euroleague Web site.
"If I'm not wrong I've never ever played against Real Madrid so this is a new thing for me, and if I beat them I can really say I achieved everything and retire... [Real head coach Bozidar] Maljkovic is a coach I really appreciate and respect. He's one of the top coaches in Europe and has great knowledge and experience. His coaching style is very active, and what he will do on the lines maybe is even more important than what his players will do on court."
The Madrid attack is anchored by its high-scoring guard duo of Louis Bullock (16.2 ppg.) and Igor Rakocevic (15.8 ppg.), with Felipe Reyes (10.6 ppg., 9.2 rpg.) getting the job done inside. Other players that can have a big impact on the game are shot-blocking big man Venson Hamilton and a pair of recent NBA draft picks at the forward spots, Frenchman Mickael Gelabale (9 ppg.) and Axel Hervelle (9.2 ppg.) of Belgium.