Sofoklis Schortsanitis 390.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Maccabi Tel Aviv enters Thursday’s crucial Euroleague showdown at Bennet Cantu
with a, quite literally, massive question mark hanging over its
Maccabi’s Greek giant Sofoklis Schortsanitis has been playing
through a meniscus injury for over a month, resulting in a significant drop in
Sofo will require arthroscopic surgery to regain full fitness, but
he doesn’t plan to go under the knife until the end of the season, choosing to
power through the pain.
However, his unhealthy knee is clearly affecting
his performance, with the 26-year-old center averaging just 6.0 points and 3.7
rebounds in a mere 13.3 minutes over Maccabi’s last three Euroleague
When Sofo’s at his best, Maccabi not only enjoys an unstoppable
force under the basket, but its offensive weapons from the perimeter also
benefit from the space created by the attention the center
However, if his recent play is anything to go by, Tel Aviv will
have to find a way to win without all the advantages afforded to it by a healthy
Sofo when it comes up against Cantu in Italy in a game that could go a long way
to determining which of the two teams advances to the
After opening its Top 16 campaign with an important road
win at Zalgiris Kaunas, Maccabi was reminded last week of how far it still is
from the top of European basketball when it was outplayed in the final quarter
of a 71-57 home defeat to Barcelona.
Cantu has also split its first two
games of the Top 16, losing in Barcelona and beating Kaunas, but with a deep and
balanced roster, and a 5-1 record at home this season, it is understandable why
Maccabi coach David Blatt is so wary of the Italians.
“We’re not in
optimal shape right now due to injuries and illness, but that’s an unavoidable
part of such a long and tiring season,” Blatt said.
“We’re travelling to
Cantu to win and we’re up to the challenge. Keith Langford is sick, suffering
from dehydration, and Shawn James has been hurt for a few days now and he’s
doubtful, while Sofo Schortsanitis is doing all he can to get back into good
“Cantu is an excellent team that has lost only one
home Euroleague game this season. They run their plays at a very high level, and
they have great shooting percentages from two and three-point range. This game
is definitely not an easy hurdle to overcome.”
Forward Vladimir Micov
(10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) is Cantu’s only player to average in double-figures, but the
Italians have five more players who score more than 7.5 points per game,
including risingstar Giorgi Shermadini (9.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and veteran
sharp-shooter Gianluca Basile (9.1 ppg, 3.2 apg).
“The game against
Maccabi will be the turning point of our Top 16, but this shouldn’t put us under
pressure,” Cantu coach Andrea Trinchieri said. “Maccabi is a very physical team
with a lot of experienced players who know how to prepare themselves for these
kinds of games.
“At the beginning of the year, the chance to compete with
the strongest teams in Europe was a dream, but now it is
Maccabi failed to score a single three-pointer against Barca
last week, and is ranked last among Top 16 teams in threes made with only 4.9
per night. It is also allowing 8.0 triples per game, the most among the
remaining teams in the competition.
Maccabi’s futility from beyond the
arc, combined with the fact that is has registered significantly more turnovers
than assists in the Euroleague since Jordan Farmar left the team, have resulted
in the yellow-and-blue becoming more and more dependent on individual efforts in
Tel Aviv needs the likes of Demond Mallet, Keith Langford
and Sofo to create their own openings, but with the last two not being fully
fit, Blatt will require on Thursday significant contributions from bench players
like Tal Burstein, Yogev Ohayon and Guy Pnini.
“We’ve put our loss to
Maccabi Ashdod in the BSL behind us and now we’re focusing on Cantu,” captain
“This game is extremely important for us and we really
want to win. We’ll need to play good defense and to get back on track on
offense, as well, after a couple of games in which our shooting was not
“Cantu has plenty of players who know how to score points and
they’re a very dangerous team, especially on their home court.”