Critical Eurocup showdown for Mac TA

Round-of-16 berth hinges on Olimpija duel and next week’s Novgorod clash • Jerusalem playing for pride.

A team picture of Maccabi Tel Aviv's basketball team. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
A team picture of Maccabi Tel Aviv's basketball team.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
 Maccabi Tel Aviv’s European fate will not be decided until next week. However, it is aiming to enter the decisive Eurocup showdown with Nizhny Novgorod at Yad Eliyahu Arena in the best possible situation by returning to winning ways in the competition with a victory at Olimpija Ljubljana on Wednesday.
Maccabi dropped to 2-2 in Group M following a 78-68 loss at Unics Kazan last week, leaving it tied with Novgorod in what has become a head-to-head battle for second place and a berth in the round of 16.
Novgorod improved to 2-2 last week with an 81-74 win over Ljubljana, eliminating the Slovenians after they fell to 0-4. Nizhny hosts the 4-0 Kazan on Wednesday, but regardless of the day’s results, second place in the group will only be decided next week when Maccabi welcomes Nizhny.
Tel Aviv beat Novgorod 87-83 on the road three weeks ago.
A Maccabi win, combined with a Nizhny loss on Wednesday, will mean that the yellow-and-blue will be able to advance to the next round even should it lose to Novgorod by three points or fewer next week.
Any other combination of results on Wednesday and the winner of the showdown at Yad Eliyahu next week is guaranteed to progress regardless of the margin of victory.
Maccabi got back on track in BSL action on Sunday with a 100-94 win over Maccabi Rishon Lezion, but coach Zan Tabak was still unhappy with his team’s performance, especially on defense.
“I expect my players to translate what we have been working on in training to the game,” said Tabak.
“The more we train with our new squad of players the better our chances are of doing that. We didn’t play with the right mentality against Rishon and that has to change. That isn’t easy because most of our players are offensive minded, but that is why we added other players who should give us a new dimension on defense.”
Elijah Millsap had 12 points in 15 minutes on his debut against Rishon, while center Cedric Simmons, who was handed a twoweek deal, is set to play for Maccabi for the first time on Wednesday.
Gal Mekel finished with eight points and eight assists on his Eurocup debut for Maccabi last week.
Tel Aviv is still without the injured Yogev Ohayon and Brian Randle.
“I expect him to fill his role, just as I do from every other player on the roster,” Tabak said of Simmons, who has been out of action since December 2014. “The question is, can he do that quickly and handle the team’s training sessions and games physically.”
Hapoel Jerusalem will also be in Eurocup action on Wednesday, playing for nothing more than pride after losing all hope of progressing with last week’s 79-69 home loss to Strasbourg.
Jerusalem, which sits in last place in the group at 0-4, hosts Avtodor Saratov of Russia on Wednesday.
Also Wednesday, Maccabi Rishon Lezion looks to advance to the Europe Cup round-of-16 from first place in Group O when it visits Kataja in Finland. Rishon secured its progress last week despite suffering an 81-71 defeat at ASVEL Basket Villeurbanne of France, falling to 3-2.
A win in Finland on Wednesday combined with a Novo Mesto triumph over Villeurbanne will see Rishon advance from first place, which will give it home-court advantage in the best-of-three last 16 tie.