Red-hot Maccabi welcomes Partizan

Tel Aviv going for seventh straight Euroleague victory, hoping to wrap up first place early.

December 9, 2010 05:34
3 minute read.

MACCABI TEL AVIV 311. (photo credit: AP)

Maccabi Tel Aviv can secure a first-place finish in Group A of the Euroleague with a victory over Partizan Belgrade at Nokia Arena on Thursday night, but coach David Blatt has already got one eye on the Top 16.

Maccabi booked its place in the next stage with a 71-68 victory at Zalgiris Kaunas last week, its sixth straight win. Blatt’s team has allowed just 66 points per game during its winning streak, while averaging 80.4 points.

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Tel Aviv suffocated Partizan’s offense in Serbia, winning 67-54 last month, and will be a massive favorite to triumph over Belgrade at Nokia and clinch a No. 1 seed in the Top 16 draw with two regular season games to spare.

Despite the fact his team’s continental campaign is going so well, Blatt has no intention on resting on his laurels and has got his sights set on strengthening his roster ahead of the start of the Top 16 on January 19.

“We are facing a very critical game against Partizan because a victory would secure first place and that is a very important goal which will give us a big advantage down the road,” Blatt said.

“I’m concerned with the fact that we currently have just 10 players on our roster. Richard Hendrix’s pneumonia was unexpected, but it is very significant and we are still thinking of how to boost our roster. We have yet to find the right player and we will have to be patient.

“This season we have put an emphasis on the character of the players we bring in. We decided not to sign players with a bad character even if it ends up costing us on court. Maccabi players were involved in too many incidents in the past and we want to improve the club’s image not just as a basketball team, but as a representative of Israel.”

Blatt is especially desperate to sign another big-man, and the latest name to be mentioned in connection with the yellow-and-blue is Serbian Milan Macvan.

The 21-year-old center, who plays for Hemofarm Vrsac, is regarded as one of the brightest prospects in European basketball and is believed to have a release clause in his contract.

In the meantime, Blatt will have to hope Yaniv Green can come up with the goods and play solidly as Sofoklis Schortsanitis’s backup in the absence of Hendrix.

Lior Eliyahu might also be required to play as center at certain stages, with Belgrade presenting an especially deep front court, which includes the likes Nathan Jawai, Rasko Katic and power forward James Gist.

Partizan beat Maccabi in Tel Aviv last season on its way to a 3-1 series win in the Euroleague quarterfinal playoffs, but only two Belgrade starters from that series – Dusan Kecman and Jan Vesely – remain with the team, and Maccabi’s Guy Pnini isn’t even thinking of revenge.

“We are not looking for revenge for last season because we got that with the win in Belgrade,” Pnini said. “The game against Partizan is important to us because we want to finish top of the group. We will do everything to display the basketball we know we can play.”

MACCABI TEL AVIV held Partizan Belgrade to just 54 points when the team’s met in Serbia last month, with even forward Lior Eliyahu contributing on the defensive end, blocking Vladimir Lucic (above). The clubs face off again tonight in Tel Aviv.

On TV: Partizan Belgrade at Maccabi Tel Aviv (live on Channel 10 at 9 p.m.)

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