Chance for Mac TA to take over top spot

Yellow-and-blue visit Galatasaray hoping to maintain momentum, having won 19 of 20 overall.

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s forward Devin Smith. (photo credit: NOAM GALAI/MACCABI TEL AVIV)
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s forward Devin Smith.
Maccabi Tel Aviv aims to pick up where it left off against Real Madrid when it visits Galatasaray in Turkey on Thursday night as it continues its surprise quest for first place in Euroleague Top 16 Group E.
Maccabi entered the Top 16 with a clear goal of finishing among the top four in its group and progressing to the quarterfinal playoffs for a sixth consecutive year.
However, the yellow-andblue initially looked likely to do so from third or fourth place, with Spanish powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona seemingly the firm favorites to battle it out for the top two positions.
That may still ultimately be the case, but Maccabi has emerged over recent weeks as a serious contender to win the group or at least finish in second place, which will also guarantee home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Home wins over Barcelona and Real Madrid proved Maccabi is more than capable of competing and beating two of the teams considered to be among the strongest in the competition, taking the yellow- and-blue to a 4-1 record, tied with Real for first place.
Barcelona and Panathinaikos are one game back, and with nine more games still to play in the Top 16, Maccabi can certainly not afford to relax just yet.
Tel Aviv will be desperate to keep the momentum going with a fifth straight Euroleague win and a 20th victory from the past 21 games over all competitions on Thursday.
Of Maccabi’s four consecutive wins since losing to Panathinaikos in its group opener, only one came on the road, against Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania.
After playing four times over nine days, Maccabi had four full days to prepare for Thursday’s showdown with Galatasaray. Coach Guy Goodes was able to rest those players suffering from lingering injuries and will have a full roster at his disposal in Istanbul.
Maccabi can expect to encounter a harsh atmosphere at the Abdi Ipekci Arena, with Galatasaray playing a Euroleague game in front of its fans for the first time in two months.
An independent disciplinary judge assigned by the Euroleague sanctioned Galatasaray to three home games played behind closed doors, without fans, and a fine of 100,000 euros.
The penalty stemmed from the incidents caused by its fans and the failure to adopt measures to avoid disturbances following the death of a Red Star Belgrade supporter, Marko Ivkovic, ahead of a meeting between the teams in Istanbul in November.
Galatasaray’s appeal was turned down by a three-person panel which reviewed all the material in mid-January before issuing a rejection of all arguments, thus sustaining the sanctions in place.
“This will be their first game with fans after serving their punishment and we will have to ignore all the distractions as this is bound to be one of our toughest road games,” said Goodes. “We have looked good in training and everybody is fit so I feel we are ready.”
Galatasaray relies offensively on three players, Zoran Erceg (15.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg), Carlos Arroyo (13.4 ppg, 4.5 apg) and Vladimir Micov (11.2 ppg).
Former Maccabi guard Arroyo is doubtful for the game after turning his ankle in training this week, but Goodes is preparing for Galatasaray’s strongest lineup.
“I heard that he twisted his ankle, but we don’t really know what happened so as far as I’m concerned he will be playing,” said Goodes.
“He is their barometer and leader and everything revolves around him.
They have other players like Erceg and Micov who can also hurt us on the offensive end so our defensive play will be the key to victory.”