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(photo credit: Channel 10)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will seek revenge against CSKA Moscow in a replay of last season's Euroleague title game in the NBA Europe Live Tournament in Cologne, Germany, on Tuesday.
CSKA defeated Maccabi 73-69 in Prague in May to win its first European championship in 35 years.
Both teams are coming off games against NBA sides, but with two very different outcomes.
Tel Aviv was outclassed 97-84 by the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday in Paris while CSKA thrashed the Los Angeles Clippers 94-75 on Saturday.
The teams have also been through totally different offseasons.
Maccabi's summer was spent rebuilding its team after the departure of coach Pini Gershon and key players Anthony Parker, Will Solomon and Maceo Baston.
"We just need a lot of work. We've only been together for about two weeks," new Maccabi signing Rodney Buford said after the game against the Spurs. "We didn't really show what we can do tonight. I guess it was just not our night."
CSKA, in contrast, preserved the core of the team that won the Euroleague last year and has had a calm preparation for the upcoming season.
"The most important thing for our team is to keep getting better, and tonight everybody got a chance to see what our team is capable of when we play together, move the ball and play good defense," CSKA guard David Vanterpool said after the victory over the Clippers. "It's great to beat an NBA team. But our goal was not to win against the Los Angeles Clippers in October. Our goal is to defend our Russian championship and our Euroleague championship."
The Philadelphia 76ers will play the Phoenix Suns in the second game of Tuesday's doubleheader.
The winners of each game will square off in the tournament final on Wednesday, while the losers will play for third place the same day.
Philadelphia and Phoenix have seen the merits of the trip to Europe despite the hassle of travel.
"We would do it every year if we could," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said after the team's practice Monday. "I've watched my players smile and laugh the entire week in Italy and I'm sure they'll do it in Germany, too.
"I don't see any negatives. I don't see any downsides. You can really do your work wherever. Only if people start doing too much off the court can it be used as an excuse," D'Antoni said.
D'Antoni said Europe was better at building teams - witness the losses of the US national teams in recent major tournaments.
"I think that's one of the things that Europe does better. They eat together. They travel together. They really like each other. I'm lucky to have players that do that as well," D'Antoni said.
Steve Nash, a two-time NBA MVP, said the trip was "really great, great for our unity."
Maurice Cheeks, the 76ers coach, believes the trip is helping his team find its chemistry, too.
"Coming over here to Europe has been great for us to bond, to get our team chemistry together," he said.
"When you come to a different country, guys have to rely on each other. It has allowed us to unite, to get to know things about each other we wouldn't otherwise."
Cheeks believes the 76ers will benefit from the 104-99 loss to FC Barcelona down the road by adopting something out the Catalan team's playbook.
"A lot of things they did were very useful, and we'll get to look at the tape and break down some of the things they did," Cheeks said. "We took away one option and they had another... Barcelona had two or three options and this is something we talked about after the game, adding more options to our offense and adding more options on the defensive end, too."
Allen Iverson said the trip was something he would remember.
"We haven't been together for long and it's going to help us get together faster," Iverson said.
NBA teams are just starting training camps while most Europeans teams already have several weeks of play behind them. That shouldn't be an excuse for NBA teams, though, Iverson said.
"There is no reason for anybody to play harder than us," he said. "But these guys have a lot of pride and when they come out against an NBA team they want to show they can play. The international game is getting so much better."
D'Antoni, who played and coached in Italy for years, thinks it would be different if the NBA teams came to Europe later in the season.
"The NBA is still the best league. Come back here in December... But that's not taking anything away from basketball here. European basketball is really good. But there's a big difference in the calls. You can kill people in Europe. You cannot touch people in America."
AP contributed to this report