After winning its past eight games over all competitions and eight of its last
nine encounters in the Euroleague, Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to get 2014 off on
the right foot when it visits Galatasaray in Istanbul in its Top 16 opener on
Despite failing to score more than 78 points in a
Euroleague game since the end of October and passing that mark just once in its
current winning streak, Maccabi has found ways to triumph thanks to its
Maccabi has held its opponents to 69.7 points per
game in its past nine continental contests, while limiting its rivals to an
average 65.2 points in its last eight victories in all competitions.
Aviv has managed to do so without defensive centerpiece Shawn James, who will
also miss Thursday’s game to rest his ailing back.
Coach David Blatt
will, however, have an otherwise full roster at his disposal and is optimistic
Maccabi can extend its streak in Turkey.
“This is not an easy place to
start the Top 16, but we will be ready,” Blatt said.
“We advanced to the
Top 16 from first place in the regular season and that means we have already
achieved something in Europe.
“Matters will get a lot more competitive
and difficult in the Top 16, but we are coming in on the back of eight straight
wins, and other than the fact that Shawn James isn’t with us, we are pretty
We are not entering the game in an optimal state, but we are in
a good position.”
Maccabi will play a total of 14 games in the Top 16,
which runs until April 10.
Real Madrid, which was one of just two teams
to go 10-0 in the regular season, and CSKA Moscow, that ended Group A in second
place at 7-3, are considered the favorites in Top 16 Group F, which also
includes Lokomotiv Kuban, Zalgiris Kaunas, Bayern Munich and Partizan Belgrade,
as well as Galatasaray.
The top four teams in the group will advance to
the quarterfinal playoffs.
“On the face of it, Real and CSKA look to be
the strongest teams,” said Blatt.
“However, it is very difficult to tell
at this stage as so much can happen over the 14 games and we will have to wait
and see who proves to be the strongest side.”
Galatasaray ended regular
season Group C in second place with a 6-4 record behind two-time defending
Euroleague champion Olympiacos (10-0).
Gala’s only home defeat so far
came against Olympiacos more than two months ago and coach Ergin Ataman is
hoping the home support can propel his team to a winning start to the Top
“We know we will play against a strong team, but we will stick to our
game plan,” he said. “During the Top 16 our fans’ support will be more important
than during the regular season. We will do our best to start the Top 16 with a
Maccabi will be coming up against some familiar faces on
Thursday, with former players Carlos Arroyo and Milan Macvan currently playing
Arroyo starred at Maccabi in the 2008/09 season, with
Macvan playing for the yellow-and-blue in 2010/11.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who
signed with Maccabi for the 2012/13 season but never played for the team after
failing a medical, leads Gala in the Euroleague with 13.4 points and 11.4
rebounds per game, although he played in only five of the team’s regular season
Arroyo orchestrates his team’s play, averaging 10.7 points
and 4.1 assists.
“It is going to be a tough game,” said Arroyo, “Maccabi
is an experienced team with great players. We look forward to see how our
supporters will come and support us. Hopefully, we will come away with a
Five BSL games will also take place on Thursday, with
league-leader Hapoel Jerusalem (9-3) facing a tough trip to Hapoel Eilat
Jerusalem has won nine of its past 10 league games to take sole
possession of first place, while Eilat has claimed four games in a row in all
Also Thursday, Hapoel Tel Aviv (8-4), which won all seven
of its games in December, visits Tzvika Sherf’s Maccabi Rishon Lezion (4-8),
while Hapoel Holon (6-6) hosts Hapoel Gilboa/Galil (5-7), Maccabi Haifa (7-5)
visits Maccabi Ashdod (2-10) and Bnei Herzliya faces Barak Netanya.
game between Maccabi Tel Aviv (8-4) and Ironi Ness Ziona (7-5) was postponed to