Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Bamberg in Euroleague opener • Hapoel Jerusalem in Lithuania for Eurocup
By ALLON SINAI
Despite claiming the preseason Winner Cup and opening its BSL campaign with an easy win in Eilat, Maccabi Tel Aviv knows its first true test of the season doesn’t arrive until Thursday night.Maccabi visits Bamberg in Germany in its first Euroleague game of the season, hoping to get off on the right foot after falling well short of expectations in the past two continental campaigns.While this is only the beginning of a long road, Maccabi fans know all too well that disappointing results at the start of a season often prove to be a sign of things to come.The yellow-and-blue lost its first two games in each of the past two Euroleague campaigns. It failed to advance to the Top 16 for the first time in club history after going on to lose six of its first seven games in 2015/16 and coach Erez Edelstein was sacked after beginning 2016/17 at 0-2.Maccabi would eventually end last season, the first to be played in the competition’s new format, in 14th place out of 16 teams with a 10-20 record.The Euroleague format is unchanged from last season, with Maccabi to play 30 regular season games once more, aiming to finish among the top eight who will advance to the playoffs.The winners of the best-of-five playoffs will progress to the Final Four, at which the continental champion will be decided.AdvertisementNew coach Neven Spahija has been clear that the team can’t settle for anything other than a place in the playoffs, although he insisted he isn’t lending too much importance to the results at the start of the campaign.“It would be good to start with a win, but nobody is going to win or lose the Euroleague in October,” he said.Maccabi will finally be playing with its full roster, with DeAndre Kane to feature for the first time after missing the Winner Cup and the win over Hapoel Eilat.Norris Cole and Pierre Jackson also battled injuries during preseason and only rejoined the roster over the weekend before taking part in Monday’s BSL victory.Only one Maccabi player is back from last season, captain Itay Segev, with Bamberg also undergoing a summer overhaul.Ricky Hickman, who won the Euroleague with Maccabi in 2014, and former Maccabi player Quincy Miller are among the players to join Andrea Trinchieri’s side, with the Italian back for another season together with Greek playmaker Nikos Zisis.On Wednesday, Hapoel Jerusalem opens its continental campaign when it visits Lietkabelis Panevezys of Lithuania in its Eurocup opener.After reaching the semifinals of the competition last season, Hapoel is hoping to go at least one better this term, with a place in the final rumored to be enough to secure the side a Euroleague berth for 2018/19.Up until this season, only the winner of the competition was awarded a place in the Euroleague.Jerusalem also faces Galatasaray of Turkey, Bayern Munich of Germany, Reggio Emilia of Italy and Buducnost of Montenegro in Group B.The competition’s format remains unchanged from last season, with the best four teams from each group after a 10-game, round-robin regular season, to advance to the Top 16.Jerusalem suffered a surprise exit in the quarterfinals of the Winner Cup following a defeat to Ironi Nahariya. But it picked up some much-needed confidence ahead of Wednesday’s game by avenging that loss and opening its BSL title defense with a victory in Nahariya on Sunday.“We are all still trying to understand our place on the team,” said Hapoel’s new forward Austin Daye. “Everyone here wants to win and everyone needs to understand that in order to do so they will need to make sacrifices.”
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