(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
After exceeding all expectations in the Euroleague regular season, Maccabi Tel
Aviv can make a real statement on Thursday night.
Maccabi visits reigning
European champion Barcelona in its Top 16 opener, knowing a victory would not
only be a significant step towards qualification for the quarterfinals, but
would also send out a message that this season’s team has every intention and
capability of going all the way.
Tel Aviv won nine straight continental
games to end the regular season with a Euroleague best 9-1 record, but it has
yet to face a team of the quality of Barca.
The Spaniards only finished
in third place in Group C of the regular season with a 7-3 record, but have
arguably got the best roster on the continent, even without the injured Pete
Mickeal and Gianluca Basile.
“We worked hard to reach a 9-1 record in the
regular season, coming focused and motivated to every game,” Maccabi coach David
Blatt said. “Barcelona is a great team, but not one that is impossible to
We’ve made progress since the start of the season and we mustn’t
forget our situation just a few months ago.
We’ve already played tough
games on the road, but Barcelona at home in the Euroleague will be perhaps the
toughest game we’ll play.”
Maccabi led the Euroleague in twopointers made
(237) and was second in steals (10.8 pg) in the regular season, while committing
the fewest turnovers (11.2 pg).
The yellow-and-blue was also fourth in
points scored (79.9 pg) and third in assists (15.6 pg), but swingman Tal
Burstein knows that the Top 16, and especially the game in Barcelona, are a
completely different story.
“This is our biggest test so far and we are
facing an extremely tough game at the European champion,” Burstein said. “At
this level it is difficult to put your finger on the one thing you need to do to
stop your opponent. We will all have to play to potential for 40 minutes. You
have to play at a very high level to beat Barca, especially in their
Burstein revealed that Blatt has placed an emphasis on the way
the team starts the game.
“David has stressed that we must maintain our
focus from the first minute,” Burstein said. “We must be ready for their
intensity and make sure we don’t experience what happened to us in the first
period in Vitoria.”
Tel Aviv was outscored 31-11 by Cajasol Vitoria in
its regular season opener, falling to a 94-78 defeat, its only European loss to
After steamrolling its way to the Euroleague title last year,
Barcelona has relatively struggled this season.
It ranked next-to-last in
three-point accuracy (28.3 percent), but led the competition in two-point
percentage at 59.1% and was third in free throw accuracy (79%).
suffering numerous injuries, coach Xavi Pascual has still got countless weapons
at his disposal.
Ricky Rubio and Juan Carlos Navarro are two of the best
guards in Europe, with talented Slovenian Jaka Lakovic contributing off the
Sharp-shooter Alan Anderson, who played for Maccabi last season,
joined Barca ahead of the Top 16 and will be hoping to prove Tel Aviv was wrong
to not extend his contract.
“I’ve only just joined Barcelona, but unlike
last year I feel welcome and I’m quickly acclimatizing,” Anderson
As strong as Barca’s backcourt is, Maccabi’s biggest problem will
probably be coping with the Catalans’ numerous big-men.
forward Terrence Morris and centers Erazem Lorbek, Boni Ndong, Kosta Perovic and
Fran Vazquez will be looking to dominate Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Lior Eliyahu,
Richard Hendrix and Milan Macvan, who is still settling in his new
“This game will be the most important test we’ve faced so
far,” Maccabi forward David Blu said.
“Barcelona is an excellent team,
but we’re setting out for the game with confidence and the key to victory will
be to play our game. A win will not guarantee us a place in the Final Four, but
this is certainly a key game. “Every game in the Top 16 is important, but to
beat a team like Barcelona will give us a lot of confidence for the rest of the