Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Devin Smith .
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv can officially book its place in the Euroleague quarterfinals on Thursday night, but equally important, it is aiming to make a recovery statement when it hosts Real Madrid in Top 16 Group F action at Nokia Arena.
After Sunday’s humbling 28-point thrashing at the hands of Hapoel Jerusalem in the BSL at Nokia Arena, Maccabi has plenty to prove on Thursday.
Not only does the yellow-and-blue need a win to show that it can compete and beat Europe’s best, but it will also be desperate to avoid a second straight home loss which could lead to a snowball effect at the most important stage of the season.
Maccabi visits Bayern Munich in a tricky road game in its next Euroleague encounter before wrapping up its Top 16 campaign against CSKA Moscow, which crushed the yellow-and-blue by 35 points in Russia last month.
David Blatt’s team, which fell to second place in the local standings behind Jerusalem following Sunday’s drubbing, also faces a far from straightforward finish to the BSL regular season, visiting Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in its next three games before hosting Haifa in its final contest ahead of the playoffs.
“We are not currently at our best physically or mentally,” admitted Blatt. “There are ups and downs during a season and we were on the up for three months and then this blow came. We will need to start our recovery against the best team in Europe.”
Maccabi dropped to a 7-4 record in Group F following a 72-70 loss at Partizan Belgrade last week, but remained on track to advance to the quarterfinals.
Galatasaray’s 76-69 victory over Bayern Munich maintained Maccabi’s hold on third-place, with the yellow-and-blue remaining two games clear of its rivals with three games to play.
The top four teams will progress to the quarterfinals, with the top two to also secure homecourt advantage.
Maccabi trails group-leader Madrid and CSKA by two games and a victory on Thursday by more than six points would give Tel Aviv real hope of leapfrogging the Spaniards, moving it within one game of Real and securing it the tiebreaker between the teams after Blatt’s men lost 74-68 in the Spanish capital in late January.
However, Real has lost just two of 21 Euroleague games this season and is a perfect 24-0 in the strong Spanish league.
Despite ending Euroleague regular season Group D in first place with an 8-2 record, Maccabi’s offensive play left plenty to be desired.
The yellow-and-blue was ranked only ninth in the competition with 76.4 points per game, scoring more than 80 points just once in 10 contests.
Tel Aviv went on to score between 85 and 90 points in four consecutive convincing victories to start the Top 16.
However, it has since netted more than 80 points only once in seven continental contests, losing in four of those encounters.
Bouncing back on Thursday will be especially challenging for Maccabi, with Madrid owning the best defensive record in the competition together with CSKA, allowing just 71.5 points per game.